Galaxy Details and Mergers

Hubble’s observations reveal a menagerie of galaxies.

Comma shaped curved cloud of gases in bright white edged with bright-pink star forming regions, and threaded with rusty-brown tendrils of dust at center and throughout the comma shaped merger. All set against the black of deep space.

Astronomer Edwin Hubble pioneered the study of galaxies based simply on their appearance and categorized them according to three basic shapes: spiral, elliptical, and irregular. Some 60 years later, the sharp vision of the space telescope named in his honor began seeing unprecedented details in galaxies, revealing intricate, dark dust lanes and glowing knots of star formation. Hubble helped uncover the supermassive black holes that power the bright centers of massive galaxies, and revealed the interdependent relationship black holes have with their host galaxy.  

Hubble image of NGC 1300
Astronomers classify galaxy NGC 1300 as a barred spiral because its arms do not swirl into the center but instead are connected to ends of a straight bar of stars that contains the nucleus.
NASA, ESA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA); acknowledgment: P. Knezek (WIYN)

Hubble has also captured merging galaxies that look like a “Great Pumpkin,” a “Space Triangle,” “Antennae,” and “Mice.” For all their violence, galactic collisions take place at a snail’s pace – over timescales that span several hundred million years. Hubble captures a mere snapshot of these mergers. 

Hubble image of NGC 4676
Long streamers of stars and gas appear as tails in this Hubble image of the gravitationally interacting galaxies NGC 4676, nicknamed “The Mice.”
NASA, H. Ford (JHU), G. Illingworth (UCSC/LO), M. Clampin (STScI), G. Hartig (STScI), the ACS Science Team and ESA
This computer simulation depicts the colliding galaxies that form “The Mice.”
Josh Barnes (University of Hawaii) and John Hibbard (National Radio Astronomy Observatory)

Hubble images of the “tadpole-like” Antennae and Mice galaxies reveal the gravitational turbulence these galaxies endure. The interacting duo called Arp 143 (the “Space Triangle”) holds a pair of distorted, star-forming spiral galaxies. Astronomers think the pair passed through each other, igniting a triangular firestorm of new stars. 

Mergers like this preview the coming collision between our own Milky Way and the neighboring Andromeda galaxy 4 billion years from now. 

Comma shaped curved cloud of gases in bright white edged with bright-pink star forming regions, and threaded with rusty-brown tendrils of dust at center and throughout the comma shaped merger. All set against the black of deep space.
Located some 65 million light-years away, the Antennae – also known as NGC 4038 and NGC 4039 – are locked in a deadly embrace.  Both galaxies were once sedate spirals like the Milky Way, but the pair has spent the past few hundred million years sparring with each other. The clash is so violent that stars were ripped from their host galaxies to form a streaming arc between the two.
The “Antennae Galaxies,” NGC 4038 and 4039, are spiral galaxies in the process of merging. The bright knots in the bluish areas are massive pockets of young star clusters, whose formation was sparked by the turbulent interaction of the galaxies. Credit: NASA, ESA and G. Bacon (STScI)

Explore Other Hubble Science Highlights

Learn about some of Hubble's most exciting scientific discoveries.

Cepheid star in Andromeda galaxy (Hubble observations)

Discovering the Runaway Universe

Our cosmos is growing, and that expansion rate is accelerating.

Hubble Ultra Deep Field image

Tracing the Growth of Galaxies

Hubble is instrumental in uncovering the various stages of galactic evolution.

Hubble image left to right: Jupiter, Uranus, Saturn, Neptune

Studying the Outer Planets and Moons

Hubble’s systematic observations chart the ever-changing environments of our solar system's giant planets and their moons. 

Hubble view of an expanding halo of light around star v838 monocerotis

Seeing Light Echoes

Like ripples on a pond, pulses of light reverberate through cosmic clouds forming echoes of light.

Hubble observations of galaxies' centers

Monster Black Holes are Everywhere

Supermassive black holes lie at the heart of nearly every galaxy.

Hubble observations of Carina Nebula section

Exploring the Birth of Stars

Hubble’s near-infrared instruments see through the gas and dust clouds surrounding newborn stars.

An oval of colorful tendrils of gas and dust stretching from lower-left to upper right. Ova's outer ring is rusty-red tendrils, followed by a yellow/lime-green ring of tendrils. Oval's center is bright turquoise with white tendrils bisecting it. All set on a black background.

The Death Throes of Stars

From colliding neutron stars to exploding supernovae, Hubble reveal details of some of the mysteries surrounding the deaths of stars. 

depiction of gravitational lensing

Shining a Light on Dark Matter

Hubble’s observations help astronomers uncover the underlying structure of the universe.

Thirty proplyds in a 6 by 5 grid. Each one is unique. Some look like tadpoles, others like bright points in a cloudy disk.

Finding Planetary Construction Zones

Hubble’s sensitivity can reveal great disks of gas and dust around stars.

Three views of Pluto. Three mottled circles in colors of yellow, grey, rusty-orange, and black.

Uncovering Icy Objects in the Kuiper Belt

Hubble’s discoveries helped NASA plan the New Horizon spacecraft’s flyby of Pluto and beyond.

Blue background. Center of image is a disk blocking the light of a star. Below and just to the left of the disk, at about seven o'clock, is a bright white point. This is PDS 70b.

Recognizing Worlds Beyond Our Sun

Hubble’s unique capabilities allow it to explore planetary systems around other stars. 

animation of a binary asteroid with a shifting tail

Tracking Evolution in the Asteroid Belt

These conglomerates of rock and ice may hold clues to the early solar system.