The latest images NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope show two galaxies in the process of colliding and merging into one galaxy. Previously thought to be one abnormal galaxy, NGC 6052 is now understood to be in the final stages of two galaxies merging. The photo was taken by the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2.
Even though NGC 6052 is 230 million light years away, located in the constellation of Hercules, scientist think they can learn a lot about how galaxies work by watching the evolution of this merger. Galaxy mergers are important events in the universe, shaping how galaxies evolve and how they get their shape.
As you can may imagine galaxy mergers are slow and relatively uncommon in the universe with only about 3% of galaxies currently in a merger process. These galaxy collisions occur when two big galaxies are close together, they spiral around one another and begin to disrupt each other’s regular structure then being to merge into one.
The original stars in the center of these galaxies continue unaffected. They shine and burn as they have although their orbit maybe be affected slightly. The overall shape of a galaxy is determined by how the stars are distributed and since these orbits are affected greatly the shape of the merging galaxies changes quite a bit.
The merger does create some interesting moments because of large amount of gas within galaxies. Strong tidal forces create massive star formations. NGC 6052 has been forming stars for the last 400 million years. These new stars are not small, at a rate of 42 a year with the mass of our Sun, between 12-60 percent of the galaxies stars have been formed during this time.
NGC 6052 has a couple million if not billion years to finish this merger and most assuredly the new galaxy will have a vastly different shape than it does today.