The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has spotted the strange galaxy IRAS 06076-2139, located in the constellation Lepus (The Hare). The galaxy was observed from a distance of 500 million light-years by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) and Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) instruments.
This image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows the unusual galaxy IRAS 06076-2139, found in the constellation Lepus (The Hare). Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) and Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) instruments observed the galaxy from a distance of 500 million light-years. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA
This specific object stands out from the crowd as it actually comprises of two separate galaxies rushing past each other at almost 2 million kilometers (1,243,000 miles) per hour. This speed is probably too fast for them to combine and develop a single galaxy. However, the galaxies will distort one another through the force of gravity while passing each other, because of their small separation of only about 20,000 light-years, thus changing their structures on a grand scale.
These galactic interactions are very frequently observed by Hubble, and for a long time astronomers have studied these interactions. The intriguing behaviors of interacting galaxies take up several forms; galaxy harassment, galactic cannibalism and also galaxy collisions. It is possible even for the Milky Way itself to eventually fall victim to the latter, combining with the Andromeda Galaxy in about 4.5 billion years. However, the fate of the galaxy should not be alarming; while billions of stars populate the galaxies, the distances between each star are so large that hardly any stellar collisions will take place.