As part of its celebration of a new year, the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has published six different galaxy mergers. These rare astronomical phenomena were captured as part of a recent survey to investigate the rate of new star formations.

As part of the release, NASA/ESA explains that these rare merging events show galaxies undergoing dramatic changes in their appearances and stellar content.

“These systems are excellent laboratories to trace the formation of star clusters under extreme physical conditions,” the organization writes. “The Milky Way typically forms star clusters with masses that are 10 thousand times the mass of our Sun. This doesn’t compare to the masses of the star clusters forming in colliding galaxies, which can reach millions of times the mass of our Sun.”

The galaxy pictured in this Hubble Picture of the Week has an especially evocative name: the Medusa merger and is located about 130 million light-years away in the constellation of Ursa Major (The Great Bear). 
This system consists of a pair of galaxies, dubbed IC 694 and NGC 3690, which made a close pass some 700 million years ago. As a result of this interaction, the system underwent a fierce burst of star formation. In the last fifteen years or so six supernovae have popped off in the outer reaches of the galaxy, making this system a distinguished supernova factory.

These events give off a lot of light, and even after the collision, when the resulting galactic system fades into a more calm state, the massive star clusters will continue to shine brightly.

This image shows the peculiar galaxy NGC 3256. The galaxy is about 100 million light-years from Earth and is the result of a past galactic merger, which created its distorted appearance. As such, NGC 3256 provides an ideal target to investigate starbursts that have been triggered by galaxy mergers.

These images are a selection of six out of a group of 59 that have been published as early as 2008 and as recently as October of 2020.

The galaxy system NGC 1614 has a bright optical centre and two clear inner spiral arms that are fairly symmetrical.
Located in the constellation of Hercules, about 230 million light-years away, NGC 6052 is a pair of colliding galaxies.

“By studying the six galaxy mergers shown here, the Hubble imaging Probe of Extreme Environments and Clusters (HiPEEC) survey has investigated how star clusters are affected during collisions by the rapid changes that drastically increase the rate at which new stars are formed in these galaxies,” NASA/ESA writes.

“Hubble’s capabilities have made it possible to resolve large star-forming ‘knots’ into numerous compact young star clusters. Hubble’s ultraviolet and near-infrared observations of these systems have been used to derive star cluster ages, masses, and extinctions and to analyze the star formation rate within these six merging galaxies. The HiPEEC study reveals that the star cluster populations undergo large and rapid variations in their properties, with the most massive clusters formed towards the end of the merger phase.”

NGC 34 lies in the constellation Cetus (The Sea Monster). The galaxy’s outer region appears almost translucent, pinpricked with stars and strange wispy tendrils.

(via Mashable)

Image Credits: Photos courtesy of ESA/Hubble, NASA

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