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The Antennae Galaxies - What Happens when Galaxies Collide

Updated on June 30, 2011
The Antennae Galaxies
The Antennae Galaxies | Source

What happens when galaxies collide?

Astronomers say that galaxies can collide. What happens at such a collision? Many say that it puts on quite a pyrotechnic show when they do collide, based on what is seen from the Hubble Telescope. The Antennae Galaxies are one such pair of galaxies that have collided. They are the nearest, and youngest examples of galaxies colliding. I am wowed at what Hubble and other telescopes are able to capture, and thus able to share with us! I feel very thankful just to be able to observe such amazing beauty in the universe, it is simply stunning to me.

Can you even begin to imagine two separate galaxies colliding? Since galaxies are not solid objects, a collision is rather interesting, to put it lightly. They don't crash or bump into each other then bounce back off. Its more of a matter of one galaxy infiltrating another galaxy. It is said that these galaxies can close in on each other at nearly a million miles an hour. They each can contain hundreds of billions of stars as well.

These stars don't literally crash into each other because they are so far apart, but they do engage in a kind of tug of war with the gravitational pulls. The stars are pulled one way by one galaxy, while the other pulls stars in its direction. Basically, one galaxy will "win" out over the other, and kind of assimilate the other into itself to be a larger galaxy. It all depends on the nature and relative mass each of the two galaxies in question.

The Antennae Galaxies
The Antennae Galaxies | Source

How did The Antennae Galaxies collide?

We are told that spiral galaxies with a similar mass can collide together, and when this happens, their stars can be pulled from their original orbits.  Then the galaxies can lose their spiral structure, so to speak.  The stars will do usually one of two things, from what I understand.  They can gravitate toward the center of the two merging systems, or they can be flung out into space in long streamers.  It would be so cool to observe that. 

With the Antennae galaxies, they are saying that a billion years ago, such a collision occurred.  The collision was between NGC 4038 and NGC 4039.  When this happened, it produced a pair of long, curving "streamers" of stars, as you see in the pictures.  When this happened, it produced what looks like an insects head along with antennae.  Thus the name came to be, for the two interacting galaxies now called The Antennae Galaxies. 

These Pictures of Antennae Galaxies, what you are seeing

We see the result of what they believe are colliding galaxies of similar size. We are seeing the center. On the outside, we see the curving streamers stars. The "antennae" I mention, are actually on the outside of the picture frame, in the above pictures.  The two galaxies merging force billions of stars to be born. I am completely blown away by this whole process, and think its unbelievably beautiful and magnificent!

Hubble Telescope
Hubble Telescope | Source

What happens if galaxies collide of unequal sizes?

Many things can happen if a galaxy collides with another one of a different size. For instance, if a large and small one collide, the larger one can pull apart the smaller one, and basically become a part of the larger one. Some say this is what is happening in our own galaxy, and it is pulling apart the Magellanic Clouds.

The other thing that can happen, is a small galaxy may be able to pass on through a larger galaxy. It can trigger a new round of star formation. Its spiral structure will also be destroyed. This is what happened with the Cartwheel Galaxy. There was amazing star formation occurring at one part of the "wheel." This happened approximately 500 billion years ago, according to many astronomers.

See, when colliding galaxies come together, the gas clouds can collapse. This is because of gravitational forces, and when it happens there is an amazing burst of star formation. I simply cannot imagine this happening, and wish I could observe it! In a sense, we are able to observe it after the fact, thanks to Hubble and modern technology. When this sudden star formation occurs, it is called a "starburst". You can see them happening in galaxies that are being distorted by other ones nearby.

© 2011 Paula


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    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 3 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Hello Jan, These kinds of things interest me a great deal as well, it is almost magical really! Very interesting, and I can see why you wanted to study it. Life can certainly pose challenges to our dreams at times, but I am glad you found this hub and have the resources you do (like the internet) to keep on reading about these fascinating things. For me, I get so caught up in my own busy life I can tend to forget about all the other amazing things going on in our universe.

      Thank you for your comment!

    • Laudemhir Jan profile image

      Laudemhir Jan 3 years ago from Davao City, Philippines

      Wow, this is really interesting! I have been dreaming of becoming an Astronaut myself because I want to learn about these things. Now I'm not pursuing that career due to specific reasons I couldn't outrun! I am not having such regrets because the Internet has helped me discover things that once amused me and will amuse me again! Thanks for this hub.

    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 3 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Hello Imtii, Thank you very much for your kind comment. I think what happens in our galaxy is simply amazing. I am glad you stopped by and liked what you read and saw. Have a great day.

    • imtii profile image

      Imtiaz Ahmed 3 years ago from Dhaka, Bangladesh

      Very interesting article you wrote oceansnsunsets. I loved the pictures you post. It was amazing to how stars and galaxy collides. I am giving a Vote for this. I will visit more of your writings thank you :)

    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 6 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Thank you for your thoughts Opinion Duck!

    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 6 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Thank you so much, Suzette! Glad you dropped by and left a comment.

    • OpinionDuck profile image

      OpinionDuck 6 years ago

      Great photos and explanations.

      Have you seen any spirals that are counter clockwise?

      I guess because of our perspective it could be actually either clockwise or counter clockwise. The point is that they all seem to spiral in the same direction.

      If Sir Isaac Newton's laws of motion are valid out in space, then one has to ask where is that outside motion causing the attraction strong enough to collide?

      String theory would probably attribute it to some force in the other eight unseen dimensions.

      It is also interesting to know what happens to the dark energy or whatever is in the Ether during the collision process. Is it neutral or is it part of the source of the attraction?

      My point is that we don't really know what these galaxies are doing or why they are doing it.

      From our Solar System and Milky Way Galaxy we don't really see any of these things happening here.

      I don't even believe that we understand the orbits of the planets in our solar system. It is not that there aren't theories about it, just that they rely on too many premises that we haven't been able to observe or control.

      I kind of like the two Sun theory for explaining the orbits and Sun jitters.


    • suzetteboston profile image

      suzetteboston 6 years ago

      Wonderful article, you are amazing.

    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 6 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Hi there Carolina, I hear you! It IS mind boggling, and I think its great we can see what we can of it. Thank you for stopping by and your comment!

    • carolina muscle profile image

      carolina muscle 6 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

      wow... immensity of such things is just mind boggling!!

      really cool hub!!!!

    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 6 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Rpalulis, thank you! I also get so amazed at such things, and I am always want to learn more. So glad to share what I find, and appreciate your visit. :)

    • rpalulis profile image

      rpalulis 6 years ago from NY

      Very interesting hub, I am amazed with astronomy and would love to learn more. These images are fascinating, thanks for sharing this information on what happens when galaxies collide.

    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 6 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Melpor, thank you very much for the visit, the read, and the comment. I agree about the JWST, and can't wait to see what we can see then! I can't even begin to imagine, and it is very exciting indeed.

    • melpor profile image

      Melvin Porter 6 years ago from New Jersey, USA

      Oceansnsunsets, this is a very informative hub. I am also amazed by the pictures taken by the Hubble telescope. I can't wait until the earth-bounded Webb telescope becomes operational in the near future. I am sure the pictures will be even more incredible.