This Is What Happens When Galaxies Collide

This amazing image shows how messy space can be, as two galaxies collide and deform each other— creating new stars as gas and dust are pushed and pulled in all directions.

Captured by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, the picture shows the star-forming spiral galaxy NGC 2936 and its elliptical companion NGC 2937—known collectively as Arp 142. NASA explains what's going on:

Gas and dust drawn from the heart of NGC 2936 becomes compressed during the encounter, which in turn triggers star formation. These bluish knots are visible along the distorted arms that are closest to the companion elliptical. The reddish dust, once within the galaxy, has been thrown out of the galaxy's plane and into dark veins that are silhouetted against the bright starlight from what is left of the nucleus and disk.

The interaction causes the orbits of the stars in the elliptical galaxy to be radically altered—so it's a relief that our humble little galaxy isn't undergoing a similar collision. [NASA]