This striking NASA Hubble Space Telescope image, which shows what looks like the profile of a celestial bird, belies the fact that close encounters between galaxies are a messy business. This interacting galaxy duet is collectively called Arp 142. The pair contains the disturbed, star-forming spiral galaxy NGC 2936, along with its elliptical companion, NGC 2937 at lower left.
Once part of a flat, spiral disk, the orbits of the galaxy's stars have become scrambled due to gravitational tidal interactions with the other galaxy. This warps the galaxy's orderly spiral, and interstellar gas is strewn out into giant tails like stretched taffy.
Above the pair, an unrelated, lone, bluish galaxy, inconsistently cataloged as UGC 5130, appears to be an elongated irregular or an edge-on spiral. Located 230 million light-years away, this galaxy is much closer to us than the colliding pair, and therefore is not interacting with them. It happens to lie along the same line of sight to foreground Milky Way stars caught in the image. Arp 142 lies 326 million light-years away in the southern constellation Hydra. It is a member of the Arp catalog of peculiar galaxies observed by astronomer Halton C. Arp in the 1960s. Two bright stars visible near to the UGC 5130 are located in our galaxy, the Milky Way and are hundreds of times closer than galaxies on the background.
This color image is a composite of Wide Field Camera 3 photos taken in blue-green, yellow-red, and near-infrared light.
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Image Credits: NASA, ESA
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