Hubble Views New Galaxy Being Formed

Galaxy NGC 6052 is being formed into a single structure from the merging of two galaxies of similar mass 

Two become one
NGC 6052 still shows definite signs of a recent collision between two smaller galaxies of similar mass. Credits: NASA/ESA

Space news ( February 18, 2016) – 230 million light-years away in the constellation Hercules – 

This breathtaking Hubble image of galaxy NGC 6052 was taken with the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 on board the Hubble Space Telescope. Astronomers originally classified this different looking island universe as an irregular galaxy, but after more study, they believe it’s a new galaxy in the process of being formed.  

Also called Mrk 297, LEDA 57039 and Arp 209, NGC 6052 has previously been described as having a rather unusual structure, as seen in the regions of strong emission and the irregular appendage on its eastern side as seen in this image. 

Looking at the image, it’s not easy to see the traces of two separate galaxies in the act of merging. Attracted by gravity, two smaller galaxies with similar mass were slowly drawn together, before colliding to form NGC 6052.  

As the merging process progresses, individual stars are knocked out of their original orbits and onto new ones that take them far outside the galaxy. The starlight in the image appears quite chaotic in shape and form, but over time, the chaotic shape of this new galaxy will settle down.  

Astronomers conducting a survey of nearby galaxies detected all types on the Hubble Tuning Fork, with about ten percent on average being classified as irregular or unusual using the Hubble classification system. The sample size in this survey is rather small, though, when you compare it to the size of the cosmos. 

The percentages of different galaxy types seem to vary according to the environment, so astronomers expect these numbers to change as the survey sample size increases. 

A titanic collision

Billions of years in the future, Andromeda and the Milky Way will have a similarly fated meeting, but this galactic merger will be a cosmic collision of a different sort. Andromeda has much more mass and is bigger than the Milky Way and astronomers expect this meeting to produce a different looking island universe than NGC 6052. 

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Read about the Nebra Sky Disk, a portable instrument used by stone-age astronomers to sync the lunar and solar calendars.

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