Mar 17, 2009

Galaxies In Collision II

Using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, scientists have captured an image of two galaxies in the late stages of a galactic collision. The two massive galactic cores are edging ever closer, nearly colliding. These galactic cores are composed of super-massive black holes and millions upon millions of stars. Here is the image from Spitzer.

This is treated as a single galaxy, NGC 6240, but what is now evident is that NGC 6240 contains two massive "cores" which are, in galactic terms, in imminent threat of collision.

The galactic cores are in a single, tangled galaxy called NGC 6240, located 400-million light years away in the constellation Ophiuchus. Millions of years ago, each core was the dense center of its own galaxy before the two galaxies collided and ripped each other apart. Now, these cores are approaching each other at tremendous speeds and preparing for the final cataclysmic collision. They will crash into each other in a few million years, a relatively short period on a galactic timescale. - ( Spitzer Press Release )
There have been many images of galaxies moving closer together, and even some that look like they are starting to collide, but this is the only galaxy in our near Universal neighborhood that shows such a late-stage development.

Streams of millions of stars are being ripped off the galaxy, forming wispy "tidal tails" that lead off NGC 6240 in several directions. But things are about to get even more violent as the main event approaches and the two galactic cores meld into one.
In the center of NGC 6240, the two black holes in the cores will whip up a frenzy of radiation as they careen towards one another head-on, likely transforming the galaxy into a monster known as an ultra-luminous infrared galaxy, thousands of times as bright in infrared as our Milky Way.

Beautiful stuff. These type of massively scaled events take place all the time in our Multi-verse, and we are very lucky to have a tool capable of detecting such magnificence. While it does dwarf the human scale of things, it is also quite a grandiose and awe-inspiring thought to imagine that us lowly hairless apes can construct tools that allow us to explore the Universe, and not only that, but we can construct theoretical models which describe this Universe in precision of one part in a billion. Long live the HUMAN BRAIN.

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