Galaxies Gone Wild (Photos)

Interacting galaxies are found throughout the Universe, sometimes as
dramatic collisions that trigger bursts of star formation, on other
occasions as stealthy mergers that result in new galaxies. A series of
59 new images of colliding galaxies has been released from the several
terabytes of archived raw images from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space
Telescope to mark the 18th anniversary of the telescope's launch. This
is the largest collection of Hubble images ever released to the public
simultaneously.








Interacting
galaxies are found throughout the Universe, sometimes as dramatic
collisions that trigger bursts of star formation, on other occasions as
stealthy mergers that result in new galaxies. A series of 59 new images
of colliding galaxies has been released from the several terabytes of
archived raw images from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to mark
the 18th anniversary of the telescope's launch. This is the largest
collection of Hubble images ever released to the public simultaneously.
In this poster are the best 12 images of the collection.


Credits: NASA,
ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration and
A. Evans (University of Virginia, Charlottesville/NRAO/Stony Brook
University), K. Noll (STScI), and J. Westphal (Caltech)






Galaxy mergers, which were more common in the early Universe than they
are today, are thought to be one of the main driving forces for cosmic
evolution, turning on quasars, sparking frenetic star births and
explosive stellar deaths. Even apparently isolated galaxies will show
signs in their internal structure that they have experienced one or
more mergers in their past. Each of the various merging galaxies in
this series of images is a snapshot of a different instant in the long
interaction process.



Our own Milky Way contains the debris of the many smaller galaxies it
has encountered and devoured in the past, and it is currently absorbing
the Sagittarius dwarf elliptical galaxy. In turn, it looks as if our
Milky Way will be subsumed into its giant neighbour, the Andromeda
galaxy, resulting in an elliptical galaxy, dubbed "Milkomeda", the new
home for the Earth, the Sun and the rest of the Solar System in about
two billion years time. The two galaxies are currently rushing towards
each other at approximately 500,000 kilometres per hour.



Cutting-edge observations and sophisticated computer models, such as
those pioneered by the two Estonian brothers Alar Toomre and Juri
Toomre in the 1970s, demonstrate that galaxy collisions are far more
common than previously thought. Interactions are slow stately affairs,
despite the typically high relative speeds of the interacting galaxies,
taking hundreds of millions of years to complete. The interactions
usually follow the same progression, and are driven by the tidal pull
of gravity. Actual collisions between stars are rare as so much of a
galaxy is simply empty space, but as the gravitational webs linking the
stars in each galaxy begin to mesh, strong tidal effects disrupt and
distort the old patterns leading to new structures, and finally to a
new stable configuration.



The pull of the Moon that produces the twice-daily rise and fall of the
Earth's oceans illustrates the nature of tidal interactions. Tides
between galaxies are much more disruptive than oceanic tides for two
main reasons. Firstly, stars in galaxies, unlike the matter that makes
up the Earth, are bound together only by the force of gravity.
Secondly, galaxies can pass much closer to each other, relative to
their size, than do the Earth and the Moon. The billions of stars in
each interacting galaxy move individually, following the pull of
gravity from all the other stars, so the interwoven tidal forces can
produce the most intricate and varied effects as galaxies pass close to
each other.



Typically the first tentative sign of an interaction will be a bridge
of matter as the first gentle tugs of gravity tease out dust and gas
from the approaching galaxies (IC 2810). As the outer reaches of the
galaxies begin to intermingle, long streamers of gas and dust, known as
tidal tails, stretch out and sweep back to wrap around the cores (NGC
6786, UCG 335, NGC 6050). These long, often spectacular, tidal tails
are the signature of an interaction and can persist long after the main
action is over. As the galaxy cores approach each other their gas and
dust clouds are buffeted and accelerated dramatically by the
conflicting pull of matter from all directions (NGC 6621, NGC 5256).
These forces can result in shockwaves rippling through the interstellar
clouds (ARP 148). Gas and dust are siphoned into the active central
regions, fuelling bursts of star formation that appear as
characteristic blue knots of young stars (NGC 454). As the clouds of
dust build they are heated so that they radiate strongly, becoming some
of the brightest (luminous and ultraluminous) infrared objects (APG
220) in the sky.



These objects emit up to several thousand billion times the luminosity
of our Sun. They are the most rapidly star-forming galaxies in today's
Universe and are linked to the occurrence of quasars. Unlike standard
spiral galaxies like the Milky Way, which radiate from stars and hot
gas distributed over their entire span of perhaps 100,000 light-years,
the energy in luminous and ultraluminous infrared galaxies is primarily
generated within their central portion, over an extent of 1000 to
10,000 light-years. This energy emanates both from vigorous star
formation processes, which can generate up to a few hundred solar
masses of new stars per year (in comparison, the Milky Way generates a
few solar masses of new stars per year), and from massive accreting
black holes, a million to a billion times the mass of the Sun, in the
central region.



Intense star formation regions and high levels of infrared and
far-infrared radiation are typical of the most active central period of
the interaction and are seen in many of the objects in this release.
Other visible signs of an interaction are disruptions to the galaxy
nuclei (NGC 3256, NGC 17). This disruption may persist long after the
interaction is over, both for the case where a larger galaxy has
swallowed a much smaller companion and where two more closely matched
galaxies have finally separated.



Most of the 59 new Hubble images are part of a large investigation of
luminous and ultraluminous infrared galaxies called the GOALS project
(Great Observatories All-sky LIRG Survey). This survey combines
observations from Hubble, the NASA Spitzer Space Observatory, the NASA
Chandra X-Ray Observatory and NASA Galaxy Explorer. The Hubble
observations are led by Professor Aaron S. Evans from the University of
Virginia and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (USA).



A number of the interacting galaxies seen here are included in the The
Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies, a remarkable catalogue produced by the
astronomer Halton Arp in the mid-1960s that built on work by B.A.
Vorontsov-Velyaminov from 1959. Arp compiled the catalogue in a
pioneering attempt to solve the mystery of the bizarre shapes of
galaxies observed by ground-based telescopes. Today, the peculiar
structures seen by Arp and others are well understood as the result of
complex gravitational interactions.



Note:

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between ESA and NASA.

Credits:

NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble
Collaboration and A. Evans (University of Virginia,
Charlottesville/NRAO/Stony Brook University)



From:

http://www.spacetelescope.org/news/html/heic0810.html