The legendary Hubble Space Telescope, operated by NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), captured a dazzling snapshot of a large galaxy (NGC 169) pulling cosmic material away from a smaller galaxy (IC 1559).
“As common as these interactions are thought to be in the Universe, it is rare to capture an image of two galaxies interacting in such a visibly dynamic way,” explained the ESA.
The larger galaxy, with more mass, tugs on the smaller galaxy. In such interactions, “gas, dust, and even entire solar systems will be drawn away from one galaxy towards the other,” the space agency said.
Thanks to Hubble, we can glimpse the event happening from over two hundred million light-years away. “This process can actually be seen in action in this image — delicate streams of matter have formed, visibly linking the two galaxies,” noted the ESA.
In the future, our own Milky Way galaxy will have an intense galactic interaction, too. Some 4 billion years from now, the Milky Way will inevitably collide with the larger Andromeda galaxy. NASA expects a great merger, resulting in a single, great galaxy.