Over the past 30 years, the Hubble Space Telescope has helped transform our understanding of the universe. And all the while, it has also regularly quenched the public’s thirst for breathtaking views of nebulae and galaxies dotted across the cosmos.
Known as Arp 282 and located some 300 million light-years away, the galactic duo pictured above, and captured by Hubble, reveals galaxy NGC 169 (bottom) visibly interacting with galaxy IC 1559 ( at the top). In the photo, you can see streaks of gas and dust delicately connecting the two galaxies, the result of the immense tidal forces involved when two gravitational goliaths stray too close.
Although galaxies can often seem isolated, with no close neighbors in sight, that doesn’t mean they always will be. And thanks in part to Hubble images like this, astronomers now know that gaze interactions and head-on collisions between galaxies are fairly common (even though such collisions rarely result in individual star collisions). In fact, close encounters like this play a fundamental role in changing the size, shape, and structure of galaxies over billions of years. Moreover, when two galaxies interact, it can even stir up the gas and dust they contain, triggering new bursts of star formation.
So while galactic collisions, at first glance, may seem like cosmic calamities, in the long run they could actually breathe new life into otherwise darkened and dying island universes.