Home Science & Technology The giant galaxy has been spinning its neighbor for 400 million years

The giant galaxy has been spinning its neighbor for 400 million years

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The interacting galaxies NGC 1512 and NGC 1510 are central to this image from the Dark Energy Camera, the modern wide-field visor on Victor M. Blanc’s 4-meter telescope at the Serra Talola Inter-American Observatory. Provided by NOIRLab.

Sometimes you just have to sit and marvel at the particularly magnificent view of the interaction of galaxies. When these giant space cities merge with each other, wild and crazy things happen – a kind of scenario of the “Galaxy of the Wild”. Take, for example, this couple. We see them together in a space dance that lasts not exactly half a billion years. With each turn on the intergalactic dance floor, they change each other forever. Eventually, they will merge into one giant galaxy.

NGC 1512 (left) is the larger of the two galaxies. It’s a barricaded spiral that seems to unravel as it interacts. Its smaller satellite is a dwarf lenticular galaxy (bottom right) called NGC 1510. Both lie in the direction of the constellation Horologium and are about 60 million light-years away. The 4-meter Victor M. Blanco telescope in Chile has caught this kind of galaxy interaction.

What happens when galaxies merge?

Galaxies are far apart in space, but they interact with each other during space time. The dances they perform are how they grow and change. This includes our Milky Way. In fact, our galaxy is currently absorbing several smaller dwarf galaxies, adding their distinctive stars to a larger Milky Way population.

The interaction of the galaxies NGC 1510 and NGC 1512 is a good example of what happens during the merger process. Their gravitational attraction to each other caused large waves of star formation, especially in the outer spiral arms of a larger galaxy. This created what astronomers call “star bursts” and threw long blue strings of hot young stars into space. Mergers of galaxies are often stimulating seizures of star formation. Someday these massive stars will explode as supernovae and add some fireworks to the long galactic dance.

In addition, the lesser gravitational attraction of NGC 1512 diverted gas, dust, and stars from the larger neighbor, creating thin tendrils that propagate in space. It also looks like it’s “unwinding” the spiral sleeves on a more massive neighbor.

Cropped view of the main image showing the tendrils of hot young stars created during the stellar phase of galaxy interaction.  Provided by NOIRLab.
The cropped view of the main image shows the tendrils of hot young stars created during the stellar burst phase of galaxy interaction. Provided by NOIRLab.

NGC 1510 acts on its little satellite by pulling out tendrils of gas and dust. The interaction also distorts the shapes of both galaxies. Things will only get worse for both of them over time. Eventually, they completely merge with each other to form a giant galaxy, probably elliptical. But it is far in the future.

Capture the view

This galactic dance scene is part of a larger image taken by the Blanco telescope equipped with a dark energy camera (DECam). DECam was built for use in the Dark Energy Survey. It is a project to map hundreds of millions of galaxies and detect supernovae. Ultimately, the idea is to look for patterns in space structure that give clues about the nature of dark energy. It is a mysterious “something” that is accelerating the expansion of the universe. The poll lasted six years. During this time, DECam recorded information about 300 million galaxies in 5,000 square degrees of southern sky.

Although we cannot see dark energy directly, we can appreciate incredibly detailed images of galaxies like this, and the results of such fantastic galaxy interactions. If you look closely at this vast field, you can see even more distant galaxies forming the background for the two interacting.

Wide field with DECam. Provided by NOIRLab.

The Victor C. Blanco facility is part of NOIRlab. This collection of observatories includes the Serra Talola Inter-American Observatory, the Center for Community Science and Data, the Gemini Observatory, the Keith Peak National Observatory and the Vera K. Rubin Observatory. The laboratory itself is funded by the US National Science Foundation.

The 4-meter dome of the Victor M. Blanc Telescope appears under the Milky Way at the Serra Talola Inter-American Observatory.  Provided by NOIRLAb.
The 4-meter dome of the Victor M. Blanc Telescope appears under the Milky Way at the Serra Talola Inter-American Observatory. Provided by NOIRLAb.

For more information:
Galactic Ballet, made with NOIRlab NSF in Chile

Dark Energy Chamber (DECam)

NOIRLab