Experts at the American space agency have just released a new view of the Antennae galaxies, which are among the most widely-known objects in the Universe. The two cosmic structures were imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope in the past, and that photo became an instant classic with the scientific community and the general public. The galaxies are shown as they collide, in a battle that began more than 100 million years ago, and that will most likely go on for millions of years to come.
The recent image was snapped using all of NASA's remaining Great Observatories, and namely Hubble, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the Spitzer Space Telescope. Data from all these instruments was pieced together to form the new view of the Antennae system. The forming structure got its name from the fact that the collision produced filaments of matter in the surrounding area, which resemble antennae. The galaxies are located a good 62 million light-years away from us, astronomers say.
Scientists at the NASAS Jet Propulsion Laboratory
(JPL), in Pasadena, California, say that the major galactic collision has had an impressive effect on stellar formation rates. Where the two Antennae galaxies touch each other, massive stellar production ensues. In fact, astronomers say, some of the stars that developed after the cosmic merger began have already reached the end of their burning cycle. This is evidenced by the relatively large number of supernovae that have been detected around the collision site. Unlike Sun-sized stars, massive stars can exhaust their entire supply of hydrogen within a few tens of millions of years, after which time they blow up.
For the new image, each observatory contributed something. Chandra painted an X-ray image of the hot, interstellar gas clouds that exist at the collision site, and also revealed black holes and neutron stars that formed after massive stars went supernova. The infrared data from Spitzer show the clouds that were heated up by the newly-born stars. The Hubble data provide additional details on the oldest structures in both galaxies, as well as new insight into the way stellar nurseries appear and develop.