Christmas magic from Tinkerbell

Astronomers have captured a festive photo of Tinkerbell scattering fairydust in the night, just in time for the panto season. Their magical image looks remarkably like the favourite Peter Pan character with her delicate wings outstretched.

Three galaxies mergedIn reality, it is a rare example of three galaxies colliding, around 650 million light-years away from Earth.

Tinkerbell was found hiding amongst veils of dust by an international team of astronomers from a European observatory called the Very Large Telescope on a Chilean mountaintop.

It had already been recognised as a merger of two galaxies, one a barred spiral and one more irregular. But the third component – an irregular galaxy in which stars are forming at a fantastic rate – was revealed using an instrument on the telescope called NACO that records fine detail via the technique of adaptive optics.

Further observations using Nasa’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes were combined to help confirm the real nature of the cosmic fairy, which is also being likened to a bird.

Astronomers estimate that, from tip to tip, Tinkerbell’s wings stretch the same width as our own Milky Way galaxy, or around 100,000 light-years.

Picture produced by Henri Boffin (ESO).

Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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