It’s a cosmic death pact of epic proportions.
That’s a cosmic death pact if I’ve ever seen one. Credit: ESA/Hubble, NASA
Everything in the universe comes with an expiration date.
Our planet, for example, will likely be swallowed by the sun in 7 or 8 billion years, when it begins to run out of fuel, heading toward its own death. Milk, on the other hand, spoils after a couple of weeks.
And of course, even some of the largest structures in our universe, galaxies, will also die … some in a far more dramatic fashion than others.
Two galactic drama queens located about 350 million light-years away have just started to merge into one, effectively ending their lengthy, cosmic loneliness.
The galaxies, called Arp 256, were spotted in the process of merging by the Hubble Space Telescope, our esteemed eye in the sky since 1990.
“This image suspends them in a single moment, freezing the chaotic spray of gas, dust, and stars kicked up by the gravitational forces pulling the two galaxies together,” the European Space Agency (ESA) said in a statement.
“Though their nuclei are still separated by a large distance, the shapes of the galaxies in Arp 256 are impressively distorted. The galaxy in the upper part of the image contains very pronounced tidal tails — long, extended ribbons of gas, dust, and stars.”
One day, our Milky Way galaxy will also merge with the Andromeda galaxy. That galactic crash is expected to happen in about 4 billion years.
But even in galactic death, there is new life. Gravitational forces have produced new hotbeds of star formation within the galaxies.
“The galaxies are ablaze with dazzling regions of star formation: The bright blue fireworks are stellar nurseries, churning out hot infant stars,” ESA said.
“These vigorous bursts of new life are triggered by the massive gravitational interactions, which stir up interstellar gas and dust out of which stars are born.”