March 8 (UPI) — Two for the price of one. A new image captured by the Hubble Space Telescope has offered viewers a fresh look at Arp 256, the product of two colliding galaxies.
Arp 256 features two barred spiral galaxies in the early stages of a dramatic union. The collision was first documented in 1966, one of 338 galaxies featured in astronomer Halton Arp’s Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies.
The merger is classified as an interacting galaxy. It’s located 350 million light-years from Earth in the Cetus constellation.
Though the nuclei of each galaxy remain separated by a significant distance, the intense gravitational forces pulling the duo together have already begin to distort the galaxies’ spiral shapes. The collision has excited new pockets of interstellar gas and dust, triggering the formation of new stars.
Among the the galaxies’ distorted spirals, blue light reveals large regions of accelerated stellar formation.
Galactic interactions were more common during the early universe. As the cosmos expands and spreads out, interactions become less common. But ancient collisions continue to inspire galactic evolution in the modern, immediate universe.
Astronomers are still trying to suss out the ways in which our own galaxy was influenced by early mergers and collisions.