NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has captured a stunning new image of a galaxy that’s more than twice the size of our Milky Way.
According to NASA, the gigantic elliptical galaxy (nicknamed NGC 474) lies about 100 million light-years from Earth, near the constellation Pisces. And its size spans nearly 250,000 light-years, or 2.5 times larger than our own galaxy, the Milky Way.
Last week, NASA released a rare close-up view of the central region of NGC 474, captured by the Hubble Telescope’s “superbly sharp eye.”
“Images like this show the complexity and activity of galaxies.” Hubble Project lead scientist Dr. Jennifer Wiseman told USA TODAY in an emailed statement.
In addition to its massive size, NGC 474 is unique because it has a series of complex layers of dust and gas layers that surround its core. Exactly how the shells formed is still unknown, but astronomers believe they could result from the galaxy absorbing one or more smaller galaxies over time.
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Thanks to the Hubble Telescope, Wiseman explained, astronomers know that galaxies have frequently merged with their neighbors through mutual gravitational attractions throughout cosmic history. And the long process of merging, which can take billions of years, creates a much larger merged galaxy and often triggers a “frenzy of star formation as the gas in the region is agitated and compressed”.
While NGC 474 is an elliptical galaxy (and among only 10% of elliptical galaxies with shell structures), many types of modern galaxies are also the products of previous mergers. Our spiral Milky Way, for example, went through mergers but ended up with a different structure.
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And the Milky Way is on track for another merger, Wiseman said. Hubble Precision Observations estimate that the Milky Way will merge with the Andromeda Galaxy (our nearest major neighbor) in a few billion years.
“Future observations with Hubble and other telescopes in space and on the ground will help us better understand how the dynamics of galaxies and their mergers create larger galaxies and stimulate the formation within them of stars and their star systems. planets,” Wiseman said. “It will also help us understand the environment of our Milky Way that led to the formation of our own solar system.”
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