Gemini North telescope captures brilliant image of two galaxies merging

By | August 16, 2022

The Gemini North telescope in Hawai’i captured this brilliant image of a pair of spiral galaxies interacting as they clash and merge into each other. NGC 4568 (bottom) and NGC 4567 (top) are entangled in their mutual gravitational fields and should eventually combine to form a single elliptical galaxy in around 500 million years.

Gemini North is one of the twin telescopes at the International Gemini Observatory, which is operated by the United States National Science Foundation’s (NSF) NOIRLab.

A galactic merger is one of the most spectacular events in the Universe and that of NGC 4568 and NGC 4567 will be no different. Currently, the centres of the two galaxies are still 20,000 light-years away from each other and they both retain their original spiral shapes. But that will change.

As the two galaxies merge into each other, their opposing gravitational forces will trigger bursts of star formation and will distort the structures of both galaxies. Over a period that will last millions of years, these galaxies will continuously swing past each other in loops that tighten with each repetition. This will draw out long “streamers” of stars and gas that will get mixed into each other violently until one single elliptical galaxy emerges. This spectacular event can also be thought of as a trailer for what will happen when our galaxy, the Milky Way, collides with the Andromeda Galaxy, the galaxy closest to ours, in about 5 billion years.

Galactic merger with a supernova remnant pictured The image also contains the glowing remains of a supernova. (Image credit: Gemini Observatory/ NOIRLab/ NSF)

As if that wasn’t enough, the image also contains the glowing remains of a supernova that was first detected in 2020. The bright region at the centre of one of NGC 4568 is the fading afterglow of SN 2020fqv, a supernova whose remains were first detected in 2020.

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