In further proof that the universe can kick our butt at just about anything, the double galaxies of NGC4676 are putting on a pyrotechnics display that Jerry Bruckheimer couldn't imagine if he mainlined LSD and directly applied two thousand volts to his visual cortex. They're colliding in a process leading astrophysicists describe as "totally awesome". They've got a sense of cinema style to it too, drawing the stellar spectacular out in extreme slow-motion - a few hundred million years, now showing in a cosmos near you. We think astronomers could do a better name these fantastic objects. What would you name them?
The spectacular images are recorded by the Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys, and believe me when I say that name is more understated than calling a mobile phone loaded with Angelina Jolie, Zhang Zhiyi and Brad Pitt's numbers the "Sort of okay looking person communicator". Some people ask why we bother surveying the skies, paying for satellites to observe things millions of miles away that would never affect us unless they exploded and even then only after a few billion years. Those people have never seen pictures like this, and likely wouldn't understand them if they did.
NGC4676 might sounds like a sci-fi starship license plate but even the most red-shirted trekkie would admit that the colliding galaxies are cooler than even the shiniest Enterprise model kit. The colliding cosmic bodies have already ripped through each other, spreading stars and solar systems in the most immense wreckage imaginable, but the action isn't over yet. When you're a galaxy you can't pull off a hit-and-run, and the two bodies are now caught in each other's gravity and will be drawn back together, continuing to smash together and fly apart until they eventually kiss and make up - forming a new galaxy out of everything that's left.
Observations of the unique system have yielded information about stellar collisions and the rotational motion of galaxies, but it's good to know that astronomers remember to occasionally stand back and say "Wow, you know this stuff is really cool."
Posted by Luke McKinney.Astronomy picture of the day - Colliding galaxies http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap080224.html
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