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The Hubble Space Telescope has taken a stunning photo of a pair of colliding galaxies that have been warped into a colossal, glowing ring of stars by the intense gravitational forces between them.
The intertwined galaxies, known collectively as Arp-Madore 417-391, lie about 670 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Eridanus, visible in the southern hemisphere.
The new image was captured by Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), specially designed to search for galaxies in the early universe, and was released on November 21 by the European Space Agency (ESA).
“The two galaxies were warped by gravity and twisted into a colossal ring, leaving the nuclei of both galaxies nestled side by side,” ESA officials wrote online. (opens in a new tab).
Related: Incredibly Perfect ‘Einstein’s Ring’ Captured by James Webb Space Telescope
The cosmic collision is the latest in the Arp-Madore Catalog of Peculiar Southern Galaxies and Associations, an archive of more than 6,000 images of unusual galaxies that have been spotted in the southern sky.
In June 2019, Hubble spotted another galaxy merger, known as Arp-Madore 2026-424, which produced a similar but imperfect ring structure that looked like a ghost’s face.
Ring structures in galaxy mergers are extremely rare and only form when the two colliding galaxies collide head-on rather than being slowly pulled together by gravity, according to NASA (opens in a new tab).
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The rings are only temporary and last about 100 million years. After that, the stars are gradually pulled back into their parent galaxies, which eventually merge into a single new galaxy between 1 billion and 2 billion years later, according to NASA.
There are about 100 known galaxy merger rings, but very few form in such a perfect circle as the newly broken Arp-Madore 417-391. The symmetrical shape of the new ring is likely due to the fact that the colliding galaxies were roughly the same size, which is suggested by the roughly similar size and brightness of the two galactic centers in the image. However, the exact mechanics of ring formation are still unknown.
Arp-Madore 417-391 has been flagged as a potential future target for the James Webb Space Telescope in the image, according to the ESA. Therefore, we may not have to wait long to learn more about this delicious cosmic disc.
. gorgeous ring of stars captured by Hubble is result two galaxies collision frontal