Astronomer’s image shared by NASA shows two long-tailed galaxies dubbed the ‘Mighty Mice’ ripping each other apart
- The Mice Galaxies, named for their tails, are slowly passing through each other
- Immense gravitational tides are presently working to stretch the galaxies out
- But the Mice will ultimately merge to become a single galaxy in billions of years
- The photo was taken across six nights using a small telescope in New Mexico
A stunning image shared by NASA shows how two spiral galaxies are being slowly stretched out thanks to gravitational forces as they pass through each other.
Captioned ‘The Mighty Mice’, the shot taken by an astronomer using a small, New Mexico based telescope shows the Mice Galaxies and their tails of stars and gas.
The two galaxies, which lie 290 million light-years away, will continue to collide with each other repeatedly until they eventually become one, in billions of years’ time.
A stunning image shared by NASA shows how two spiral galaxies are being slowly stretched out thanks to gravitational forces as they pass through each other
The image of the interacting galaxies, designated NGC 4676, is NASA’s image of the day for June 14, 2019.
The entwined galaxies are colloquially known as the Mice Galaxies thanks to their long tails, which are made up of gas and stars.
The long tails have formed because the Mice are in the process of passing through each other, with this crossing causing strong gravitational tides that are stretching the galaxies out.
‘Because the distances are so large, the cosmic interaction takes place in slow motion — over hundreds of millions of years,’ said astronomer Bruce Waddington, who submitted the image.
‘They will probably collide again and again over the next billion years until they coalesce to form a single galaxy,’ he added.
The Mice Galaxies lie around 290 million light-years away from the Earth, in the direction of the constellation of Berenice’s Hair.
This ancient pattern of stars, also referred to as ‘Coma Berenices’, takes its name from Queen Berenice II of Egypt, who reportedly gave her hair as an offering to the mythological Roman goddess Venus.
Experts believe that the Mice Galaxies are members of the Coma Cluster, a group of over 1,000 galaxies that can found within Berenice’s Hair.
The first image of the Mice Galaxies was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope back in 2002
Mr Waddington captured the image of the Mice Galaxies over a period of six nights using the SkyPi Remote Observatory, which is located in New Mexico, in May 2019.
NGC 4676 is rarely imaged by such small telescopes, Mr Waddington explained, but the wide field-of-view used has caught both of the Mice’s faint tidal tails, even though they are each several hundred thousands of light-years long.
The first image of the Mice Galaxies was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope back in 2002.
WHAT IS THE HUBBLE SPACE TELESCOPE?
The Hubble telescope was launched on April 24, 1990, via the space shuttle Discovery from Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.
It is named after famed astronomer Edwin Hubble who was born in Missouri in 1889.
He is arguably most famous for discovering that the universe is expanding and the rate at which is does so – now coined the Hubble constant.
Hubble has made more than 1.3 million observations since its mission began in 1990 and helped publish more than 15,000 scientific papers.
The Hubble telescope is named after Edwin Hubble who was responsible for coming up with the Hubble constant and is one of the greatest astronomers of all-time
It orbits Earth at a speed of about 17,000 mph in low Earth orbit at about 340 miles in altitude.
Hubble has the pointing accuracy of .007 arc seconds, which is like being able to shine a laser beam focused on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s head on a dime roughly 200 miles away.
Hubble’s primary mirror is 2.4 meters (7 feet, 10.5 inches) across and in total is 13.3 meters (43.5 feet) long – the length of a large school bus.