NASA’s Hubble captured a dreamy image of the intergalactic bridge

NASA’s Hubble captured a dreamy image of the intergalactic bridge

Between black holes swallowing tiny stars and empty space hugging busy nebulae, the caverns of darkness of our universe are often relieved by flashes of light — a poetic juxtaposition evident in one of the latest images from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.

Last week, the agency released an aerial view of the galactic triplet Arp 248, also known as the Wilde triplet, for both the discoverer and the highly extravagant nature of the spectacle itself. Here it is.

Take a closer look at everything in this beautiful image of our electrifying universe.

ESA/Hubble & NASA, Dark Energy Survey/Department of Energy/Fermilab Cosmic Physics Center/Dark Energy Camera/Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory/NOIRLab/National Science Foundation/AURA Astronomy; J. Dalcanton

In this flawless photo, two of the three galaxies can be seen in the foreground in the void of space, flowing into each other as if they were made of over-hydrated watercolor paint and forming what I can only describe as an intergalactic bridge. A third, unrelated realm stands in the distant land, enveloped in deceptively small sparks that represent cosmic life from even More ▼ galaxies scattered throughout the universe.

What’s particularly mind-blowing about this image is that from Hubble’s vantage point—in Earth’s orbit, about 200 million light-years away—the three galaxies are compact enough to fit on our computer screens.

In reality, these worlds are many (many) light-years across, hold an unfathomable amount of counterparts to our sun, exoplanets like our solar system’s eight, and moons similar to our luminous lunar satellite.

They are miniature universes in themselves, existing on a scale simply unfathomable to the human mind, yet available for download as desktop wallpaper.

In fact, because of this massive content, the two massive spirals in the center of this image are connected by a glowing bridge in the first place. Both harness extremely strong gravitational forces and therefore pull on each other as if playing a gentle tug-of-war, accidentally creating what is known as a tidal tail or an extended stream of stars and iridescent interstellar dust.

Tidal tails are usually the product of galaxies coming very close to each other as they are on their way to merging into one massive galaxy. We’ve seen the breathtaking phenomena several times already – tidal tails are also responsible for some fascinating names of galactic systems.

The mice,” or NGC 4676, boasts merging galaxies about 300 million light-years from Earth and “The tadpole,” or UGC 10214, contains a large galaxy in the process of smashing into a smaller galaxy, another type of event that produced a great tidal tail.

Hubble Space Telescope image of NGC 4676, also known as “The Mice”.

NASA, H. Ford (JHU), G. Illingworth (UCSC/LO), M. Clampin (STScI), G. Hartig (STScI), the ACS and ESA science team

Even our Milky Way galaxy is currently at a collision with Andromedawhich means they can eventually generate some kind of intergalactic bridge too – but don’t worry.

The void between stars and planets within galaxies is much bigger than you think.

When galaxies merge, it’s very likely only a few actual collisions occur. Think of two large crowds entering a stadium and merging into one massive crowd. Most of the time, people wouldn’t literally bump into each other. They just settle next to each other. Now imagine the same situation, but with about a light year of space between each person.

Fascinatingly, the title “Arp” in Arp 248 comes from the late astronomer’s last name Halton Arpwhich he and astronomer Barry Madore created Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies in 1966

“Each collection contains a menagerie of spectacularly peculiar galaxies, including interacting galaxies like Arp 248, as well as spiral galaxies with one or three arms, galaxies with shell-like structures, and a variety of other cosmic oddities,” NASA said of the atlas.

It is a vast work, filled with more examples of our wonderfully contrasting universe, a vastness built by the mind of a poet and condensed with the skill of a machine.

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