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Crashing Galaxies

Hubble Space Telescope gets snapshots of distant worlds colliding

By Laura Leigh Davidson | May 1 , 2008
Hubble Interacting Galaxy NGC 6050. (Photo: NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration, and K. Noll (STScI))
Hubble Interacting Galaxy NGC 6050. (Photo: NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration, and K. Noll (STScI))

What happens when galaxies collide? Thanks to recent photos taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, we can see for ourselves.

Galaxies are a collection of billions of stars and other matter held together by gravity. Hubble has recorded these heavenly bodies spinning, sliding, and slipping into one another. All of this colliding will ultimately result in new and larger galaxies.

"This new Hubble atlas dramatically illustrates how galaxy collisions produce a remarkable variety of intricate structures in never-before-seen detail," the Space Telescope Institute said in a statement.

But don't think Hubble had to chase these galaxies around like the paparazzi hound celebrities to get a quick picture. These galactic smash-ups happen over several hundred million years. Hubble has captured snapshots of the merging galaxies at different stages of collision.

Happy Birthday, Hubble

The Space Telescope Institute released the collection of crashing galaxy images on April 24 to celebrate Hubble's 18th birthday.

The orbiting telescope functions like a high-resolution camera in space, as it is constantly beaming back to Earth the images of what it observes. Hubble orbits outside the Earth's atmosphere, allowing its cameras to take extremely sharp images.

But all of this awesome camerawork requires highly specialized equipment. The telescope can be repaired and upgraded by astronauts only during special "servicing missions."

NASA is currently training a crew for Servicing Mission 4 (SM4), scheduled for September or October of this year. During this mission, spacewalkers will install new state-of-the-art instruments, which will allow the telescope to see the universe even more clearly.

Get Hubble's view of galaxies colliding and more in this slide show!

MORE NEWS FROM OUTER SPACE

Get more news from outer space in this special report from Scholastic News Online.

Photo credits for "View from Hubble" slide show:

Slide 1: NASA, ESA, J. Blakeslee and H. Ford (Johns Hopkins University)

Slide 2: NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI) Acknowledgment: S. Smartt (Institute of Astronomy) and D. Richstone (U. Michigan)

Slide 3: NASA, ESA, P. Challis and R. Kirshner (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics)

Slide 4: NASA/JPL-Caltech and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Slide 5: NASA

Slide 6: NASA, ESA, CXC, and JPL-Caltech

Slide 7: NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Slide 8: NASA

Slide 9, composite: X-ray: NASA/CXC/M.Markevitch et al. Optical: NASA/STScI; Magellan/U.Arizona/D.Clowe et al. Lensing Map: NASA/STScI; ESO WFI; Magellan/U.Arizona/D.Clowe et al.

Slide 10: NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration, and A. Evans (University of Virginia, Charlottesville/NRAO/Stony Brook University)

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