A new image from NASA's Hubble telescope shows spiral galaxy ESO 137-001 slamming through the Norma Cluster, spewing streams of gas in a fiery collision, and it's providing excellent fodder for enthusiastic science writers.
NASA explains what actually happened -- the speeding spiral galaxy traveled through 180 million degree intra-galaxy gas so quickly -- close to 4.5 million miles per hour -- that its own gas was torn away. This is called "ram pressure stripping." The galaxy's stars were spared, however, because of their gravitational pull.
NASA explains the mechanics of the spiral galaxy's violent trip:
Tattered threads of gas, the blue jellyfish-tendrils trailing ESO 137-001 in the image, illustrate the process. Ram pressure has strung this gas away from its home in the spiral galaxy and out over intergalactic space. Once there, these strips of gas have erupted with young, massive stars, which are pumping out light in vivid blues and ultraviolet. The brown, smoky region near the center of the spiral is being pushed in a similar manner, although in this case it is small dust particles, and not gas, that are being dragged backwards by the intra-cluster medium.
You can visualize the journey with the help of this moving image:
There is a silver lining to the destruction, however. The gas stripped from the galaxy turns into stars -- even though ESO 137-001 won't be able to make its own stars anymore. It's a poetic representation of the cruelty of the circle of life, and not one lost on a number of science writers who describe the event rather graphically.
An article posted to Discovery.com, for example, is titled "Space Telescopes Witness Cosmic 'Bloodbath.'" The subsequent article notes:
If the Universe made a slasher flick, it would star the innocent ESO 137-001 and violent baddie Abell 3627. In one scene, the beautiful ESO 137-001 would drift unwittingly into the apparently serene heart of Abell 3627. Then [cut scene] the proverbial Cosmic Blender switches on, ripping through the ESO 137-001’s once elegant spiral arms, blasting its ‘guts’ into intergalactic space. The Universe can be pretty R-rated at times.
The Science Recorder also refers to a "bloodbath," and describes the collision a little more lustily:
ESO 137-001, a spiral galaxy located in the southern constellation of Triangulum Australe, is a delicate and beautiful sight. The bright blue streaks are hot young stars, surrounded by wispy streams of gas that are being torn away from the galaxy by its surroundings as it moves through space. This violent galactic evisceration is due to a process known as ram pressure stripping, a drag force felt by an object moving through a fluid. In this case, the fluid is superheated gas, found at the centers of galaxy clusters.
The Register's approach is slightly less nuanced. Under the headline "Very fabric of space-time RIPPED apart in latest Hubble pic," and subhead "Cluster upchuck: Highspeed galaxy hurls star-making fuel during violent passage," the author writes:
"Spiral galaxy ESO 137-001 is ramming through the Norma galazy cluster so hard it's spilling its guts out, leaving bright blue streaks of its own gases behind."
And The International Business Times wrapped in some intrigue, titling its story "Hubble Space Telescope Captures a Crime Spree, Witnesses a Spiral Galaxy Get Torn Apart."
NASA, for its part, chose a more flowery description:
In other space news, an asteroid is supposed to fly pretty close to the Earth later today. We hear it's going to narrowly avoiding bringing an apocalyptic end to life as we know it.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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