Teasing Apart Galaxy Collisions

Galactic Train Wrecks This montage shows three examples of colliding galaxies from a new photo atlas of galactic "train wrecks." Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Harvard-Smithsonian CfA
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May 25, 2011

A few billion years from now, our Milky Way galaxy will collide with the Andromeda galaxy. This will mark a moment of both destruction and creation. The galaxies will lose their separate identities as they merge into one. At the same time, cosmic clouds of gas and dust will smash together, triggering the birth of new stars.

To better understand collisions like these, astronomers have assembled an atlas of several galactic "train wrecks."

The new images combine observations from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, which observes infrared light, and NASA's Galaxy Evolution Explorer spacecraft, which observes ultraviolet light. By analyzing information from different parts of the light spectrum, scientists can learn much more about the collision process than from a single wavelength alone.

"We're working with the theorists to give our understanding a reality check," said the lead author of a paper on the results, Lauranne Lanz of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Mass. "Our understanding will really be tested in a few billion years, when the Milky Way experiences its own collision."

Read the full story from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics at http://www.cfa.harvard.edu/news/2011/pr201117.html

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA. More information is online at http://spitzer.caltech.edu/ and http://www.nasa.gov/spitzer .

Caltech leads the Galaxy Evolution Explorer mission and is responsible for science operations and data analysis. JPL manages the mission and built the science instrument. The mission was developed under NASA's Explorers Program managed by the Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. Researchers sponsored by Yonsei University in South Korea and the Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES) in France collaborated on this mission.

More information is online at http://www.nasa.gov/galex/ and http://www.galex.caltech.edu .

Whitney Clavin (818) 354-4673
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.


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