It’s essentially unfathomable to imagine the size of a galaxy. The diameter of the Milky Way, for example is 105,700 light-years, which is 621,370,700,000,000,000 miles. So when NASA says that it has captured an image of two galaxies colliding, the idea can’t help but boggle our puny human minds. Although even on that unthinkable scale, something familiar emerges: a giant face with two glowing eyes and, if you look closely enough, a big happy smile.
The space agency that consistently brings us tons of amazing space news and astronaut breakthroughs recently released the image of the galactic collision, which was taken on June 19 of this year by the Hubble Space Telescope. And while NASA gives all of the straight, scientific facts about the collision in its related announcement, it’s also gone out of its way to note that it looks like a mega face made of disks of gas, dust and stars. NASA even refers to it as a “galactic ghoul” on its Twitter page, which is a little bit of Halloween pandering, but really, who doesn’t love Halloween?
The collision has been dubbed Arp-Madore 2026-424 because it is from “the Arp-Madore ‘Catalogue of Southern Peculiar Galaxies and Associations.'” And even though that moniker is undoubtedly useful amongst the astronomy community, we’re going to go ahead and just refer to this thing as “The Mega Space Face” (MSF). (NASA, if you’re reading this and you’d like to hire us to name things, we’re on it.)
👀 When we peer deep into space, we don’t expect to find something staring back at us…
This galactic ghoul, captured by @NASAHubble, is really a head-on collision between 2 galaxies. Get spooked & find out what lies inside this ghostly apparition: https://t.co/xV2KiWphxf pic.twitter.com/dZnn70C1ty
— NASA, but Sp🕸️🕸️ky (@NASA) October 29, 2019
NASA notes that the MSF is a rare occurrence because most galactic collisions are not head-on “smashups.” Instead, they’re usually made up of larger galaxies consuming smaller ones. But in this case, the galaxies are roughly the same size, producing this unique “ring” structure that lasts for about 100 million years. At this point, that structure has actually dissipated, as the MSF is about 704 million light-years from Earth, which means we’re seeing it as it was 704 million years ago.
Looking forward—with a pair of glowing, starry eyes—NASA says that astronomers will use the Hubble Space Telescope to capture images of other galaxies interacting in unusual ways as well. Astronomers hope to gather a large dataset of strange galactic phenomena because they’re looking for systems that can be further observed by the James Webb Space Telescope that will be launched some time in 2021.
Hubble has unveiled a spooky new image staring out from the depths of the cosmos just in time for #Halloween. The new image reveals the twin galaxies AM 2026-424 — a pair of interacting galaxies that may foreshadow our Milky Way’s own frightening fate: https://t.co/pys9nw1VdE pic.twitter.com/NbtR9ZfreY
— Hubble (@NASAHubble) October 28, 2019
What do you think of this picture of Arp-Madore 2026-424? Do you see a giant face here, or does this cosmological Rorschach test conjure up some other image in your mind? Let us know in the comments!