Galaxy Collision Releases Bubbles of Star Formation

by | February 21, 2024, 12:40 PM | Galaxies & Cosmology

Galaxy AM 1054-325 has been distorted into an S-shape from a normal pancake-like spiral shape by the gravitational pull of a neighboring galaxy, seen in this Hubble Space Telescope image. A consequence of this is that newborn clusters of stars form along a stretched-out tidal tail for thousands of light-years, resembling a string of pearls. They form when knots of gas gravitationally collapse to create about 1 million newborn stars per cluster. Credit: NASA, ESA, STScI, Jayanne English (University of Manitoba)

Not all discoveries require new telescopes. Sometimes, they just require pointing old telescopes at new things. 

While the Hubble Space Telescope was launched in 1990 and was last upgraded in 2009, it is still producing spectacular images of things we haven’t seen before.

Newly published research on the galaxy AM 1054-325 shows us a galaxy that looks like it’s been sprinkled with pixie dust. This is the result of two galaxies colliding and merging into something new and in the process, leaving behind tidal tails of star formation. This is just one of twelve merging systems with tidal tails that are discussed in a new paper in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society led by Michael Rodruck. Among these twelve systems, the research team was able to identify 425 star cluster candidates that appear to be undergoing massive amounts of star formation with approximately one million blue newborn stars per cluster candidate. These clusters are going to allow researchers to piece together the story of how dust and gas are used up when galaxies collide, leaving behind a moment of glittering light and an eternity of fading away.

These images also give us hints of what our galaxy’s future may be. One day – five billion years from now – the Milky Way is going to collide with the Andromeda Galaxy to form a new Milkdromeda system. In the process, we, too, will form tails and glitter with star formation. This is our future.