Hubble Catches A Galaxy Duo By The “Hare”

Image Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA

May 12, 2017 – This image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows the unusual galaxy IRAS 06076-2139, found in the constellation Lepus (The Hare). Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) and Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) instruments observed the galaxy from a distance of 500 million light-years.

This particular object stands out from the crowd by actually being composed of two separate galaxies rushing past each other at about 2 million kilometers (1,243,000 miles) per hour. This speed is most likely too fast for them to merge and form a single galaxy. However, because of their small separation of only about 20,000 light-years, the galaxies will distort one another through the force of gravity while passing each other, changing their structures on a grand scale.

Such galactic interactions are a common sight for Hubble, and have long been a field of study for astronomers. The intriguing behaviors of interacting galaxies take many forms; galactic cannibalism, galaxy harassment and even galaxy collisions. The Milky Way itself will eventually fall victim to the latter, merging with the Andromeda Galaxy in about 4.5 billion years. The fate of our galaxy shouldn’t be alarming though: while galaxies are populated by billions of stars, the distances between individual stars are so large that hardly any stellar collisions will occur.

The Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), installed during Servicing Mission 3 in 2002, doubled Hubble’s field of view with sharper image quality and more sensitive detectors. The Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3), installed during Servicing Mission 4 in 2009, updated Hubble’s visible and ultraviolet light imagers for higher performance. Both of these instruments were built by Ball Aerospace in Boulder, Colorado.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems was responsible for building Hubble’s cylindrical casing and the Support Systems Module, and for integrating the telescope.