Planet Talk

Triple Galaxy Merger

Just recently, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope captured a marvelous sight: a triple galaxy merger. A triple galaxy merger is a process in which three entirely different galaxies use their separate gravitational forces to bring each other closer and then tear each other apart. Surprisingly enough, galaxy mergers are not uncommon and have aided in the formation of all large galaxies, including the Milky Way. When galaxies merge, the gases within each galaxy interact with one another and condense to cause “waves” of gases. Gases might also collapse on themselves. These interactions cause new stars to form, expanding and brightening the merging galaxies. Stars that previously existed within these galaxies remain unharmed, and they often do not collide with other stars.

Hubble’s stunning capture!

This particular galaxy cluster has been named IC 2431. It resides within the constellation Cancer, nearly 681 million light-years from the Earth. This galaxy cluster was first discovered thanks to a project called Galaxy Zoo, in which volunteers classify images of galaxies that have not been meticulously examined by professionals. Over 100,000 volunteers take part in this project, which consists of 900,000 galaxy images. Galaxy Zoo has rapidly allowed for a variety of astronomical discoveries, such as the triple galaxy merger shown in the image above.

Observing galaxy mergers, such as IC 2431, allows astronomers to better understand the past and the future of our universe. The Milky Way itself has a riveting past, having merged with and encapsulated over 12 other galaxies in the past 12 billion years. By studying the merges of galaxies, scientists can form a timeline and map of our stars and other celestial objects. In fact, the Milky Way Galaxy is on track to merge with the Andromeda galaxy roughly 4.5 billion years from now. This merger might be able to utterly redefine the stars we see in the night sky over Earth, while leaving the planets themselves unscathed.


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