Hubble’s Front Row Seat When Galaxies Collide

Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA

January 10, 2017 – This delicate smudge in deep space is far more turbulent than it first appears. Known as IRAS 14348-1447 — a name derived in part from that of its discoverer, the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS) — this celestial object is actually a combination of two gas-rich spiral galaxies. This doomed duo approached one another too closely in the past, gravity causing them to affect and tug at each other and slowly, destructively, merge into one. The image was taken by Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS).

IRAS 14348-1447 is located over a billion light-years away from us. It is one of the most gas-rich examples known of an ultraluminous infrared galaxy, a class of cosmic objects that shine characteristically — and incredibly — brightly in the infrared part of the spectrum. Almost 95% of the energy emitted by IRAS 14348-1447 is in the far-infrared.

The huge amount of molecular gas within IRAS 14348-1447 fuels its emission, and undergoes a number of dynamical processes as it interacts and moves around; these very same mechanisms are responsible for IRAS 14348-1447’s own whirling and ethereal appearance, creating prominent tails and wisps extending away from the main body of the galaxy.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy in Washington, D.C.

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. ACS was built by Ball Aerospace in Boulder, Colorado. All of the instruments currently operating on Hubble were built by Ball Aerospace.

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