This image, taken by the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) shows a tumultuous collision between four galaxies located 1 billion light-years from Earth. The galactic wreckage is creating a torrent of new stars. The tangled-up galaxies, called IRAS 19297-0406, are crammed together in the center of the picture. IRAS 19297-0406 is part of a class of galaxies known as ultraluminous infrared galaxies (ULIRGs). ULIRGs are considered the progenitors of massive elliptical galaxies. ULIRGs glow fiercely in infrared light and appear 100 times brighter than our Milky Way Galaxy.
ACS captured the visible starlight of the colliding system's blue outer region. IRAS 19297-0406 may be similar to the so-called Hickson compact groups - clusters of at least four galaxies in a tight configuration that are isolated from other galaxies. The galaxies are so close together that they lose energy from the relentless pull of gravity. Eventually, they fall into each other and form one massive galaxy. The picture was taken through the V-band on the ACS wide-field camera; and the U-band on the ACS high-resolution camera. The images were taken on 13 and 14 May 2002.
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, the NICMOS Group (STScI, ESA) and the NICMOS Science Team (Univ. of Arizona