May 15, 2015 – The Hubble Space Telescope has imaged an elliptical galaxy called NGC 3923. It is located over 90 million light-years away in the constellation of Hydra. NGC 3923 is an example of a shell galaxy where the stars in its halo are arranged in layers.
Finding concentric shells of stars enclosing a galaxy is quite common and is observed in many elliptical galaxies. In fact, every tenth elliptical galaxy exhibits this onion-like structure, which has never been observed in spiral galaxies.
The shell-like structures are thought to develop as a consequence of galactic cannibalism, when a larger galaxy ingests a smaller companion. As the two centers approach, they initially oscillate about a common center, and this oscillation ripples outwards forming the shells of stars just as ripples on a pond spread when the surface is disturbed.
NGC 3923 has over twenty shells, with only a few of the outer ones visible in this image, and its shells are much more subtle than those of other shell galaxies. The shells of this galaxy are also interestingly symmetrical, while other shell galaxies are more skewed.
Hubble has been making incredible discoveries for 25 years. All seven of Hubble’s current instruments were built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colorado.
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 conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy Inc. in Washington.