Five billion light-years from earth, there's a massive galactic pileup unfolding in slow motion. As four clusters of galaxies plow into each other, thousands of individual galaxies are colliding—creating huge amounts of cosmic chaos and a lot of energy.
New images of this phenomenon—one of the largest galactic mergers on record—suggest it's also producing more than just pretty pictures. It's also serving as quite possibly the largest particle accelerator of all time, besting the exquisitely engineered Large Hadron Collider one million times over.
"In the Andromeda galaxy we have the unique combination of a global yet detailed view of a galaxy similar to our own. We have lots of detail in our own Milky Way, but not the global, external perspective," said study co-author Prof Puragra Guhathakurta of the University of California, Santa Cruz. ...
"The comparison to the Milky Way revealed substantial differences suggesting that Andromeda has had a more violent accretion history in the recent past. Even the most well ordered Andromeda stars are not as well ordered as the stars in the Milky Way's disk."
Big, beautiful spiral galaxy NGC 7331 is often touted as an analog to our own Milky Way. About 50 million light-years distant in the northern constellation Pegasus, NGC 7331 was recognized early on as a spiral nebula and is actually one of the brighter galaxies not included in Charles Messier's famous 18th century catalog. Since the galaxy's disk is inclined to our line-of-sight, long telescopic exposures often result in an image that evokes a strong sense of depth. The effect is further enhanced in this sharp image from a small telescope by galaxies that lie beyond the gorgeous island universe.