Gather and let me tell you about birds and bees – and galaxies. Sometimes two galaxies come together with spectacular consequences, including a star baby boom. NASA and the European Space Agency’s Hubble Space Telescope have endowed us with six rare views of galaxy mergers, and each is a winner.
ESA released the images to celebrate the beginning of 2021. “These systems are excellent laboratories for tracking the formation of star clusters in extreme physical condition,” the agency said in a statement on Thursday. Star clusters are exactly what they sound like: star clusters.
All galaxies show signs of their wild past. ESA describes the NGC galaxy 3256 as strange and distorted. NGC 3690 is a “supernova factory”, and the NGC 6052 image shows two galaxies still in collision.
The Hubble Probe of Extreme Environments and Clusters (HiPEEC) imaging survey that delivered the images focused on star clusters inside galaxies and what happens to them when their host systems merge. Collisions feed into the formation of new stars, increasing the stellar birth rate.
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“The Milky Way typically forms clusters of stars with masses that are 10,000 times larger than our sun,” ESA said. “This does not compare to the masses of star clusters that form in colliding galaxies that can reach the mass of our sun millions of times.”
HiPEEC researchers have found that large groups of stars in combined galaxies remain very bright even after the collision has calmed down. While the mergers can be dramatic for the galaxies involved, viewers on Earth can safely see the beautiful consequences thanks to Hubble’s hard eyes.