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Hubble Captures Image of Galaxies Colliding 230 Million Light Years Away

The picture is a preview of the impending collision between the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies in four billion years.

by Becky Ferreira
Mar 11 2019, 3:28pm

Hubble image of NGC 6052. Image: NASA/ESA/Hubble/A. Adamo 

The Hubble Space Telescope has captured a spectacular new image of one of the most dramatic events in the universe—the collision of two galaxies.

This epic galactic merger, called NGC 6052, is located 230 million light years from Earth in the constellation Hercules. It was first spotted by astronomer William Herschel on June 11, 1784, who thought it was a single oddball galaxy with an exceptionally strange shape.

As more sophisticated telescopes were developed, scientists were able to pinpoint that this giant cluster of stars was made up of two galaxies, 6052A and 6052B. The merger also attracted attention in the 1980s after an extremely powerful supernova was spotted inside it.

Billions of years ago, 6052A and 6052B were pulled together by gravity until they eventually full-on smashed into each other. They are currently in a late stage of a galactic merger and will become one unified galaxy in the future.

The same fate is predicted to befall the Milky Way, which is expected to collide with the Andromeda Galaxy in about four billion years, creating a single “Milkdromeda” galaxy.

Read More: Two Galaxies Collided and Now There's an Intergalactic 'Eye' Watching Us All

Galactic mergers are cosmically violent events that eject stars into the intergalactic medium. But overall, the predicted effect on individual stars is minimal so it is unlikely that our solar system would be disrupted by the merger. That said, Earth will be inhospitable by that time due to the expansion of the Sun into a red giant star.

Hubble first snapped a picture of the NGC 6052 merger in 2015 with its Wide Field Planetary Camera 2. The new image, released on Friday, was taken with the upgraded Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3), which has a wider field of view and higher resolution than its predecessor.

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