What happens when two galaxies collide? Not complete and utter destruction, surprisingly, but a long, slow birth of a ‘new’ galaxy, which is what you can see happening in this image.
The image was captured by the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 aboard the Hubble Space Telescope. It shows what astronomers have long thought to be a single galaxy called NGC 6052, which can be found 230 million light-years from Earth, near the constellation of Hercules. Now, though, scientists realise that in fact it’s been two coalescing galaxies all along.
The two galaxies, drawn together by the forces of gravity, have slowly been joining to become a single, larger structure. It looks like—and actually is—utter chaos right now, but the European Space Agency claims that “eventually, this new galaxy will settle down into a stable shape, which may not resemble either of the two original galaxies.”
Image by ESA/Hubble & NASA