New Hubble image shows three galaxies violently merging into one

Hubble is back in full force after a series of near-catastrophic technical issues.
Chris Young
Three galaxies colliding.ESA/Hubble

A new image from the Hubble Space Telescope shows three galaxies merging, and it comes only weeks after scientists were worried the iconic observatory would never work again.

The new Hubble image (pictured above) shows a space object called IC 2431, located 681 million light-years from Earth. At first glance, it looks like one galaxy. In truth, it's three separate galaxies merging in a colossal event that will see all three merge into one giant galaxy, a press statement reveals.

Observations of galactic mergers help us understand what happens when these vast networks of interconnecting orbital stars, planets, and debris collide. It is, after all, something that will one day likely happen to the Milky Way — in a 2019 study, astronomers stated the Milky Way may be eaten by its nearest neighbor, Andromeda, millions of years from now. The Milky Way has also swallowed other galaxies, and it harbors remnants of those cannibalistic events.

Galactic mergers shape our universe

Binary galactic mergers are the most common type of galactic collision, but a number of triple mergers have been observed by astronomers over the years. Astronomers believe that the black holes at the center of each universe in a galactic merger will eventually merge to form an enormous supermassive black hole. However, they are yet to observe such an event. Last year, astronomers from the University of Colorado Boulder did publish a study detailing their belief that Andromeda's distorted shape is due to the collision of two black holes causing an enormous "gravitational kick".

The hope is that, by investigating more of these mergers, the scientific community will gain more insight into the evolution of galaxies. Hubble continues to provide images, despite recent technical issues that had some astronomers fearing it wouldn't make it to its 32nd launch anniversary. Though its days are numbered, NASA recently launched its James Webb Space Telescope, which will allow the scientific community to peer even further into the cosmic past.

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