Hubble Space Telescope Celebrates 32nd Anniversary With Stunning Gravitational ‘Dance’ Photo

The Hubble Space Telescope has captured an image of a unique cluster of merging galaxies that provides insight into processes in the early universe.

The five galaxies, known as Hickson Compact Group (HCG) 40, are merging into a single entity, a process that will be completed in about a billion years, Hubble officials said in a statement. . Officials released the image ahead of the venerable telescope’s 32nd anniversary, which takes place on Sunday, April 24.

The image is part of the Hubble Space Telescope’s long-standing work in studying galactic evolution.

“Studying close groups like HCG 40 helps astronomers understand how galaxies formed,” the Hubble team said. “Close groups like this,” Hubble officials added of HGC 40, “may have been more common in the early universe when their superheated, influencing material may have fueled highly energetic black holes called quasars. “

Related: The best Hubble Space Telescope images ever!

Hickson Compact Group 40 is a group of five merging galaxies, shown here in an image from the Hubble Space Telescope. (Image credit: SCIENCE: NASA, ESA, STScI IMAGE PROCESSING: Alyssa Pagan (STScI))

The cluster, located some 300 million light-years from Earth, is tightly packed in a region of space less than twice the diameter of the stellar disk of our own galaxy, the Milky Way.

Although scientists have found more than 100 compact clusters of galaxies, according to the Hubble team, HGC’s configuration is rather unique because the galaxies are not part of a larger cluster of galaxies, making it an interesting target. to study for astronomers. The origin of this configuration is still debated.

“One possible explanation is that there is a lot of dark matter – an unknown, invisible form of matter – associated with these galaxies,” Hubble officials wrote. “If they approach, dark matter can form a large cloud in which galaxies orbit. When galaxies pass through dark matter, they feel a resistance force due to its gravitational effects. This slows down their movement and makes the galaxies lose energy, so they fall together.”

Studying the details of galaxies in close groups like this helps astronomers determine when and where galaxies joined together, and from what they are assembled, Hubble officials added.

The famous telescope was launched on the space shuttle Discovery on April 24, 1990 with the aim of better understanding the early universe. Astronauts have serviced the observatory five times, the last in 2009.

As Hubble ages, including overcoming serious “safe mode” mishaps in 2021, the telescope remains healthy. NASA plans to couple Hubble’s work with the successor to the just-launched James Webb Space Telescope. Webb is in a multi-month commissioning period that is expected to end around June.

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