90 Miles From Tyranny : 10 Most Bizarre Galaxies In The Universe

Friday, March 7, 2014

10 Most Bizarre Galaxies In The Universe

Everyone has seen pictures of galaxies in their elementary school science books, but what you might not know is that not all galaxies are created equal. In fact, some of them are downright bizarre-looking. While the Milky Way may look pristine and almost flawless, the following galaxies are the poor, snaggle-toothed children of the cosmos.

10Hoag’s Object

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credit: NASA
Hoag’s Object almost looks like two distinct galaxies, with its bright yellow cluster of stars at the center and a blue ring of stars separated from the cluster by a large void of space. But no, this is one galaxy, much the same way Saturn is one planet and not a planet with a ring-shaped planet around it.
When tasked with solving the problem of how Hoag’s object was formed, science came up with a resounding “what?” In the end, they just labeled it as a type of ring galaxy and moved on. Want an example of another galaxy of this type? Look just inside the top end of the ring. There’s one off in the distance, which is bizarre, since these kinds of galaxies are pretty rare.

9Arp 87

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Photo credit: NASA
Arp 87 is what you get when two galaxies enter into a steel cage match—and only one leaves. Galactic collisions are actually pretty common and sometimes result in a lot of near misses, like what is going on here.
These two galaxies almost ran into one another a few billion years ago and gravity has strung out material between the two as they moved apart. It’s likely that they’ll sweep back toward one another in a series of near misses until they eventually merge into one big galaxy. For now, they remain tethered together by a thin stream of stars, gas, and dust particles, like enormous intergalactic bolas, which can only mean one thing: space Incas.

8Antennae Galaxies

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Photo credit: NASA
Here, we have another pair of galaxies devouring one another, but much farther along in the process. The only way you can tell there used to be two galaxies here is by the yellow clusters of stars at either end—these used to be the galactic centers. Now one giant, amorphous blob, these galaxies are slowly chugging toward a state of equilibrium that with result in the new galaxy’s final shape.
Most of the currently existing star clusters in this galactic pair will part ways before the new galaxy is totally formed—only the largest clusters will survive the merger. Perhaps the most interesting thing we can learn from observing this process is what will happen when the Milky Way inevitably merges with the nearby Andromeda galaxy, which is headed in our direction. Don’t worry, though: It won’t be for a few billion years.

7Sombrero Galaxy

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Photo credit: NASA
The Sombrero Galaxy, unsurprisingly, bears a striking resemblance to the hat of the same name. It has a large bulge in the center where some imaginary cosmic giant’s head might go and a broad, sweeping “brim.”
When we look at the bulge a bit closer, you can see that it’s actually made up of several different clusters of stars, rather than just one big one. The brim is pretty strange, too: Its intricate detail is another one of those things about space that makes science scratch its head. We’re not sure how rings like this were able to form. It’s also highly likely that the heart of the Sombrero Galaxy harbors a massive black hole.

6Centaurus A

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Photo credit: ESO
To the untrained eye, it might be difficult to distinguish Centaurus A as anything remarkable, but when you take a closer look, there’s something peculiar going on here. Centaurus A is large by galaxy standards, and large galaxies often come in one of two flavors: spiral and elliptical. But when astronomers took a look at this galaxy using radio imaging to peer through the veil of dust, they revealed a spiral hidden underneath. This is quite odd, since galaxies are generally one or the other. It is the only elliptical galaxy we’ve ever found that has spiral arms. The theory is that Centaurus A absorbed a spiral galaxy some millions of years ago, but such mergers don’t often—or ever, really—leave the spiral arms intact, so we have no clue what is happening here.
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