Coming Attractions: Cosmic Castaways

By on April 12, 2012 in
merging galaxies

As galaxies pass or merge, stars are flung loose to travel lost between galaxies (credit: NASA, H. Ford (JHU), G. Illingworth (UCSC/LO), M.Clampin (STScI), G. Hartig (STScI), the ACS Science Team, and ESA)

When you look into the sky, the background not-quite-blackness is filled with the diffuse light light of stars lost in the space between galaxies.

These are the cosmic castaways, and we’re in the process of producing a planetarium show to tell their story.

When galaxies pass in the night they gravitationally twist and turn one another. Sometimes the interactions are nothing more then a cosmic side-swipe; two galaxies cross and both come out a little bit damaged. Sometimes the interactions merge and where once two shiny galaxies orbited now only once bursts with the light of a billion stars. No matter what happens, these events leave stellar orphans.

As the galaxies tear into one another, stars get gravitationally trapped in a tug-a-war between the two systems. Eventually, both galaxies will give up their pulling and let the stars drop. These stars are left abandoned in the space between the galaxies and scattered around the newly formed systems.

Using the Hubble Space Telescope and other large telescopes, team scientists have detected their glow in the nearby Virgo clusters. In our upcoming planetarium show, we’ll describe how these stars are pulled from their homes and their fate lost in the space between the galaxies.

We can’t wait to share their story with you.


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