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Colliding Galaxies Offer View into Universe's Past

NGC 6240. Astronomers have long known that NGC 6240 is the site of the merger of two large spiral galaxies similar in size to our own Milky Way. Each galaxy contains a supermassive black hole at its center.
NASA has released a new image of two massive galaxies colliding.

According to NASA, the collision has stirred up a giant cloud of hot gas surrounding the galaxies, details of which are emerging thanks to Chandra, a powerful x-ray telescope. The cloud could contain the mass equivalent of 10 billion of our suns, and it spans 300,000 light years. The temperature is more than seven million degrees Kelvin.

Within the cloud, NASA says there has been a “baby boom” of new stars in the system known as NGC 6240, which is some 400 million light years away. Many of the new stars evolved rapidly and subsequently exploded as supernovae.

The colliding galaxies are similar to the Milky Way, the galaxy containing Earth, according to NASA, and each has a black hole at the center. Scientists believe the two galaxies will eventually form one elliptical galaxy, but the process will take millions of years.

NASA says the NGC 6240 region offers a rare chance to view an event that was common early in the Universe’s existence when galaxies were closer together and the chances of collisions were greater.

In the photo, the gas is colored purple. The image has been combined with optical data from the Hubble Space Telescope to better display the movement of the colliding galaxies.