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The tails of the Antennae galaxies, NGC 4038-39

Date created: 2007-08-20

Tags: N/A

Galaxies are rarely found in isolation, rather they tend to gather in pairs, groups of a few and clusters of many, held together by their mutual gravity. Not surprisingly, galaxies often meet each other, and what happens next can be spectacular. In this photograph two rotating spiral systems have recently collided (within the last 500 million years) and their interaction has ejected curved streams of stars and precipitated vigorous stars formation, seen as clumps in the brightest part of the photograph. In another billion years the galaxies will have merged and reabsorbed most of the stars they have ejected. The Antennae galaxies are in the direction of Corvus, about 45 million light years distant.

This image combines data from a plate taken the 4 m Kitt Peak Telescope in Arizona, almost the AAT's twin, by Al Millikan of Kodak Ltd., in May 1973 (the faint outer arms). The brighter parts of the galaxy are from an RGB colour image made from AAT data much later. Al Millikan was testing the then-new IIIa-J plate, the first of a new series of photographic emulsions produced by Kodak specially for astronomical photography.

Credit: David Malin

© Australian Astronomical Observatory