The Hubble space telescope has come up with the goods once again with a spectacular image of a cosmic pile-up. The photo shows the aftermath of an enormous collision between many galaxies, each containing many millions or even billions of stars.
Astronomers call the giant fuzzball that gorged on all the galaxies NGC 1132. It is called an elliptical galaxy and is so vast that light takes an incredible 120,000 years to travel from one side to the other.
Amazingly, its size when viewed with X-ray eyes is ten times bigger. And it resides within an enormous halo of so-called dark matter, a mysterious invisible component of the universe.
NGC 1132 is a cosmic fossil, say scientists, and the result of a feeding frenzy in which a large cannibal galaxy drew in and gobbled up all its neighbours. It lies 320 million light-years away in the constellation of Eridanus, the River.
There is evidence that our own Milky Way galaxy has snacked on smaller neighbouring galaxies, but to a much lesser extent.
The Hubble image, taken with the Advanced Camera for Surveys, is even more remarkable when you check out the myriad of “stars” in the picture. Look closely and you will see that thousands are globular clusters of stars swarming around the giant galaxy like bees around a honey pot.
Other blobs in the picture are hundreds of even more distant galaxies of all shapes and sizes – each containing millions or billions more stars.
Picture: Nasa, ESA and the Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration. Acknowledgment: M. West (ESO, Chile).