Image Credit: Hubble Legacy Archive, ESA, NASA, Martin Pugh

Located approximately 250 million light-years away from Earth in the constellation of Cancer, NGC 2623 is a picture of perfection—two galaxies that now act as one. Soon, almost all evidence of the event will be gone as well.

Astronomers think the galactic collision began several million years ago, when the paths taken by the two titan spiral galaxies brought them close together. Too close, in fact. The combined gravity of both galaxies mutually tugged at one another until their shapes became unfamiliar and their orbits distorted. Eventually, these gravitational interactions created “streamers” of raw materials (bits of gas and dust) known as tidal tails. In this instance, each tail is more than 50,000 light-years long! (That’s half the diameter of the Milky Way.)

Studying the mechanisms that drive galactic collisions is of particular interest to astronomers, as our galaxy is destined to merge with its nearest cosmic neighbor, the Andromeda Galaxy, in about 5 billion years’ time. Scientists are still debating whether or not Earth will exist when this collision takes place, as the Sun will have transitioned into a red giant prior to the collision, possibly incinerating all of the inner planets in our solar system.

A larger version of the image can be found here.

[su_heading size=”22″ align=”left” margin=”10″]Colliding Galaxies: [/su_heading]

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