Over millions of years, galaxies can engage in elaborate dances that produce some of nature's most exquisite grand designs. Few are as captivating as the galactic duo known as NGC 5394/5, sometimes nicknamed the Heron Galaxy.
An image, obtained by the Gemini Observatory of NSF's National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory, captures a snapshot of this compelling interacting pair some 160 million light-years distant.
The existence of the universe is dependent upon interactions, from the tiniest subatomic particles to the largest clusters of galaxies. At galactic scales, interactions can take millions of years to unfold, a process seen in this image of two galaxies released today by the Gemini Observatory.
The new image captures the slow and intimate dance of a pair of galaxies some 160 million light-years distant and reveals the sparkle of subsequent star formation fueled by the pair's interactions.
"One byproduct of the turbulence caused by the interaction is the coalescence of hydrogen gas into regions of star formation. These stellar nurseries are revealed in the form of the reddish clumps scattered in a ring-like fashion in the larger galaxy and a few in the smaller galaxy," a NASA report explained on Sunday.
The light from NGC 5394/5 first piqued humanity's interest when it was observed by William Herschel in 1787.
Herschel used his giant 20-foot-long telescope to discover the two galaxies in the same year that he discovered two moons of Uranus.
"Based on the images taken by the Gemini Observatory, many of the two galaxies' stars can be imagined as a Heron: the larger galaxy is the bird's body and the smaller one is its head."