Hubble Telescope Image Shows Two Galaxies Colliding 350 Million Light-Years Away

ESA/Hubble, NASA
ESA/Hubble, NASA

Since launching in 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope has captured some magnificent images of our corner of the universe, from neighboring planets to distant nebulae. An updated picture released by the European Space Agency shows two galaxies colliding 350 million light-years away, a process the ESA has been tracking for 52 years, Gizmodo reports.

Galaxies are constantly changing shape and creeping through space. When two of these massive networks cross paths, their stellar material begins to intermingle, and they eventually merge into one entity under the force of gravity. In this image depicting two barred spiral galaxies in the Cetus constellation, the two nuclei are still separate, but the explosive merging process has already been set in motion. Long tidal tails—streams of gas, dust, and stars—feather out from the top of the cluster. The bright blue patches indicate "stellar nurseries" where gas and dust stirred together by gravity are producing new stars.

The photograph was first released in 2008, but this latest version has been updated using Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) and the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3). According to an ESA statement, the galaxies "are like a natural experiment played out on a cosmic scale, and by cataloguing them, astronomers can better understand the physical processes that warp spiral and elliptical galaxies into new shapes."

Galactic mergers are a vital part of the evolution of the universe: Even the Milky Way is on course to crash into a neighboring galaxy 4 billion years down the road. But the process, though violent, is slow-moving. It will be millions of years before these two galaxies in Cetus settle down into one.

[h/t Gizmodo]

See What Hurricane Florence Looks Like From Space

NASA via Getty Images
NASA via Getty Images

As Hurricane Florence continues to creep its way toward the Carolinas, it’s repeatedly being described as both "the storm of the century” and "the storm of a lifetime” for parts of the coastlines of North and South Carolina. While that may sound like hyperbole to some, Alexander Gerst—an astronaut with the European Space Agency—took to Twitter to prove otherwise with a few amazing photos, and issued a warning to “Watch out, America!”

According to the National Weather Service, “Hurricane Florence will be approaching the Carolina shores as the day progresses on Thursday. Although the exact timing, location, and eventual track of Florence isn't known, local impacts will likely begin in the afternoon hours and only worsen with time throughout the evening and overnight period.”

On Tuesday, Wilmington, North Carolina's National Weather Service took the warning even one step further, writing: "This will likely be the storm of a lifetime for portions of the Carolina coast, and that's saying a lot given the impacts we've seen from Hurricanes Diana, Hugo, Fran, Bonnie, Floyd, and Matthew. I can't emphasize enough the potential for unbelievable damage from wind, storm surge, and inland flooding with this storm.”

Gerst’s photos certainly drive that point home.

Is Pluto a Planet After All? A New Argument Emerges

iStock
iStock

It’s been a tumultuous few years for Pluto. The dwarf planet, first discovered in 1930 by astronomer Clyde Tombaugh, was stripped of its more esteemed planet status in 2006 by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) because its orbit overlapped that of Neptune. A new set of IAU criteria mandated that a planet must orbit the sun, be spherical as a result of gravity, and "clear" the "neighborhood" around its orbit, asserting itself as the dominant presence. Pluto met the first and second edicts but not the third, relegating it to the lesser dwarf planet designation.

That declaration led to an ongoing debate over whether Pluto really earned its demotion. The newest and potentially most compelling argument comes courtesy of a paper from researchers at the University of Central Florida's Space Institute and published in the planetary science journal Icarus. In it, first author Philip Metzger asserts that no one since 1802 has used the cleared-space argument to define a planet. Referring to the IAU's definition as "sloppy," Metzger and his co-authors point out that no one else has separated asteroids from planets by using the clearing mandate. Planets, the paper argues, should not be held to dynamic descriptions of bodies that may change over time.

"We now have a list of well over 100 recent examples of planetary scientists using the word planet in a way that violates the IAU definition, but they are doing it because it's functionally useful," Metzger said in a statement. "It's a sloppy definition. They didn't say what they meant by clearing their orbit. If you take that literally, then there are no planets, because no planet clears its orbit."

Metzger is advocating instead for a planet obtaining its status due to being large enough to achieve a gravity-influenced spherical shape that activates geological changes.

Speaking with CNN, IAU spokesperson Lars Lindberg Christensen indicated a motion could be put forward to have the group reevaluate the classification but that no one had yet done so.

Whatever Pluto is or may one day become, it was a planet to Tombaugh, who wasn't around long enough to experience the reclassification. He died in 1997. In 2015, his ashes, attached to the New Horizons space probe, entered Pluto's orbit after nine years of travel.

[h/t Science Alert]

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