When Galaxies Collide

X-rays from Chandra (purple) have been combined with optical data from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope (red, green, and blue). Credit: Chandra X-ray Center.
X-rays from Chandra (purple) have been combined with optical data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope (red, green, and blue). Credit: Chandra X-ray Center.

Astronomers have used NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory to discover a ring of black holes or neutron stars in a galaxy 300 million light years from Earth.

This ring, while not wielding power over Middle Earth, may help scientists better understand what happens when galaxies smash into one another in catastrophic impacts.

In this new composite image of the galaxy AM 0644-741 (AM 0644 for short), X-rays from Chandra (purple) have been combined with optical data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope (red, green, and blue). The Chandra data reveal the presence of very bright X-ray sources, most likely binary systems powered by either a stellar-mass black hole or star, in a remarkable ring. The results are reported in a new paper led by Anna Wolter from INAF-Osservatorio Astronomico di Brera in Milano, Italy.

Where did the ring of or in AM 0644 come from? Astronomers think that it was created when one galaxy was pulled into another galaxy by the force of gravity. The first galaxy generated ripples in the gas of the second galaxy, AM 0644, located in the lower right. These ripples then produced an expanding ring of gas in AM 0644 that triggered the birth of new stars. The first galaxy is possibly the one located in the lower left of the image.

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