Stellar Collision and Awakening: Hubble’s Remarkable Discovery of Galaxy Interactions

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has discovered a phenomenon known as “string of pearls” star clusters in 12 interacting galaxies. Contrary to common belief, galaxy collisions do not annihilate stars but instead instigate the formation of new generations of stars and possibly accompanying planets. The Hubble Space Telescope has revealed 425 clusters of newborn stars along long tidal tails formed due to gravitational tug-of-war during galaxy interactions. These tails, rich in gas and dust, appear as strings of holiday lights, with each cluster containing as many as 1 million blue, newborn stars.

The clusters in tidal tails have been known for decades, but the new observations and archival data have given insights into their ages and masses. The clusters are very young, only 10 million years old, and seem to be forming at the same rate along tails stretching for thousands of light-years. The gravitational forces during galaxy interactions pull out these long streamers of gas and dust, transforming the spiral arms of galaxies and stretching them out into space. This collision compresses the hydrogen in the galaxies, leading to a burst of star birth.

The future of these star clusters remains uncertain. They might remain gravitationally intact and evolve into globular star clusters, similar to those that orbit outside the plane of our Milky Way galaxy. Alternatively, they may disperse to form a halo of stars around their host galaxy or become wandering intergalactic stars. This type of star formation might have been more common in the early universe when galaxy collisions were more frequent.

The Hubble Space Telescope, a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), has been instrumental in these discoveries. Managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, the Hubble’s operations are conducted by the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland. These recent observations provide a glimpse into the distant past, helping us better understand the dynamics of galaxy interactions and star formation.

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