Just in time for the spookiest night of the year, Hubble has snapped an image of a creepy, ghoulish cosmic face observed some 704 million light-years away.
With huge glowing red “eyes," the space face may look like something from a sci-fi flick (C-3PO, is that you?) but it's actually the result of two equally sized galaxies colliding with each other as part of the Arp-Madore system, a globular cluster located on the fringes of the Milky Way. The image was captured by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope on June 19, 2019, in visible light from the telescope’s Advanced Camera for Surveys.
Galaxy collisions are fairly common but are often not the result of head-on collisions like the one seen here, notes the European Space Agency (ESA) in a statement. The violent crash between the two pulled and stretched the galaxies’ disks of gas, dust, and stars outward to ultimately form the ring of star formations that make up the nose and face features. This structure will last just 100 million years before the two completely merge between 1 and 2 billion years from now – but not before forming the dramatic duo-ring galaxy seen in this photo.
As the name suggests, a ring galaxy is one with a circle appearance and may be formed when one galaxy passes through another. Typically, a galaxy will be largely in a disk shape with stars spread out in a spiral formation – like the Milky Way – or elliptical shape. The most well-known ring galaxy is Hoag’s Object, which was discovered in 1950. Ring galaxies are rare – there are only a few hundred of them in our cosmic area and the two involved galaxies must merge in exactly the right way to form the ring.
Our ghoulish image shows not one but two ring galaxies characterized by the parallel “eyes”. Because these two are relatively the same size, astronomers believe that the two colliding galaxies must have also been roughly the same size. Each eye represents the core of a galaxy with the outline around them made up of young blue stars. The space face is part of the Arp-Madore 2026-424 (AM 2026-424) galaxy system in the Catalogue of Southern Peculiar Galaxies and Associations published in 1966, along with 337 other strangely interacting galaxies. A subsequent 1987 survey added several thousand more galaxies.
The image was captured during the Hubble “spaceshot” program that utilizes gaps in coverage to take snapshots of other interesting cosmic behavior. NASA and ESA say that studying its formation will help astronomers to understand how galaxies merge and grow over time, and will help them prioritize future observational areas for the James Webb Space Telescope set to launch in 2021.