Galaxy Blazes with New Stars Born from Close Encounter
A Glancing Blow Between Two Galaxies Results in a Firestorm of New Stars Springing into Life
One doesn’t need a Ph.D. in astrophysics to recognize there is something odd-looking about this otherwise beautiful galaxy, NCG 4485. Like the Batman character Two-Face, one side looks normal, but the other side looks contorted with a firestorm of star formation going on. Why the colorful asymmetry in an island star city many thousands of light-years across? The clue is off the edge of the photo. It’s another galaxy, NGC 4490, that swept by NGC 4485 millions of years ago. The gravitational taffy pull between the two galaxies compressed interstellar gas to trigger a flurry of new star birth as seen in the abundance of young blue stars and pinkish nebulas. So, out of a near-collision between two galaxies comes stellar renewal and birth. It’s a trademark of our compulsive universe where even things as big as galaxies can go bump in the night.
The irregular galaxy NGC 4485 shows all the signs of having been involved in a hit-and-run accident with a bypassing galaxy. Rather than destroying the galaxy, the chance encounter is spawning a new generation of stars, and presumably planets.
The right side of the galaxy is ablaze with star formation, shown in the plethora of young blue stars and star-incubating pinkish nebulas. The left side, however, looks intact. It contains hints of the galaxy’s previous spiral structure, which, at one time, was undergoing normal galactic evolution.
The larger culprit galaxy, NGC 4490, is off the bottom of the frame. The two galaxies sideswiped each other millions of years ago and are now 24,000 light-years apart. The gravitational tug-of-war between them created rippling patches of higher-density gas and dust within both galaxies. This activity triggered a flurry of star formation.
This galaxy is a nearby example of the kind of cosmic bumper-car activity that was more common billions of years ago when the universe was smaller and galaxies were closer together.
NGC 4485 lies 25 million light-years away in the northern constellation Canes Venatici (the Hunting Dogs).
This new image, captured by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) and Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), provides further insight into the complexities of galaxy evolution.
The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency). NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy in Washington, D.C.