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WISE Beholds a Pair of Dancing Galaxies

This image from WISE features two stunning galaxies engaged in an intergalactic dance. The galaxies, Messier 81 and Messier 82, swept by each other a few hundred million years ago, and will likely continue to twirl around each other multiple times before eventually merging into a single galaxy. The relatively recent encounter triggered a spectacular burst of star formation visible in both galaxies.

Messier 81 (bottom of image) is a prototypical "grand design" spiral galaxy with its pronounced and well-defined arms spiraling into its core. At the wavelengths WISE sees, these beautiful arms show areas of compressed interstellar gas and dust, which go hand-in-hand with areas of increased star formation. The spiral density waves that create this compression and star formation have been enhanced by the close gravitational interaction with its partner galaxy, Messier 82, causing the arms to appear more prominent than what is typically seen in other isolated spiral galaxies.

Messier 82 (top of image) is also a spiral galaxy. However, it is seen edge-on from our point of view. It was originally classified as an irregular galaxy, until 2005, when astronomers were able to tease out spiral structure in near-infrared images (similar to wavelengths that WISE sees). Viewed in visible wavelengths, this galaxy appears to have a long thin bar shape, hence its common name, the Cigar Galaxy.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

  Image 24 of 306
Sun Jan 16, 2011 at 19:38 UTC
Uploaded By: Space Spin  

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