The Gemini North Telescope, located atop Maunakea in Hawaii, spotted interacting spiral galaxies about 60 million light-years away in the constellation Virgo.
The galactic couple NGC 4567 and NGC 4568, also known as the butterfly galaxies, are just beginning to collide as gravity holds them together.
Within 500 million years, the two cosmic systems will complete their merger to form a single elliptical galaxy.
At this early stage, the centers of the two galaxies are currently 20,000 light-years apart and each galaxy has maintained a pinwheel shape. As galaxies become more entangled, gravitational forces will trigger multiple events of intense star formation. The original structures of galaxies will be altered and distorted.
Over time, they will dance around each other in circles that get smaller and smaller. This tightly coiled dance will pull and stretch long streams of gas and stars, mixing the two galaxies together into something resembling a ball.
Over millions of years, this galactic entanglement will consume or disperse the gas and dust needed to spur star birth, causing star formation to slow and eventually stop.
Observations of other galaxy collisions and computer modeling have provided astronomers with more evidence that spiral galaxy mergers create elliptical galaxies.
Once the pair come together, the resulting formation may look more like the elliptical galaxy Messier 89, also in the constellation Virgo. Once Messier 89 lost most of the gas needed for star formation, very little star birth occurred. Now, the galaxy is home to ancient stars and ancient clusters.
A supernova aurora, first discovered in 2020, is It also appears in the new image as a bright spot in one of the arms of the spiral galaxy NGC 4568.
Milky Way fusion
Andromeda’s halo, a large envelope of gas, extends 1.3 million light-years from the galaxy, about halfway to the Milky Way, and up to 2 million light-years away in other directions.
This neighbor, which probably contains up to a trillion stars, is about the size of our large galaxy, only 2.5 million light-years away. This may seem incredibly far away, but on an astronomical scale, this makes Andromeda so close that it’s visible in our autumn sky. You can see it as a cigar-shaped piece of mysterious light, high in the sky during autumn.
And if we could see the huge aura of Andromeda, which is invisible to the naked eye, it would be three times the width of the constellation Ursa Major, which dwarfs anything else in our sky.