Star Clusters Born in the Wreckage of Cosmic Collisions

This spectacular image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope of the group of galaxies called Stephan's Quintet has provided a detailed view of one of the most exciting star forming regions in the local Universe. Stephan's Quintet is a favoured object for amateur astronomers and has earned a reputation as a challenging target for good hobby telescopes. The quintet is a prototype of a class of objects known as compact groups of galaxies and has been studied intensively for decades. This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image is a close-up view of the central part of Stephan's Quintet, giving a magnificent view of a gigantic cosmic collision. Weird, highly distorted features, dust lanes crossing between galaxies and long filaments of stars and gas extending far beyond the central regions all suggest galaxies twisted by violent encounters. The galaxies float through space, distorted shapes moulded by tidal interactions, weaving together in the intricate figures of an immense cosmic dance, choreographed by gravity.

In the beginning of the 1946 holiday film classic 'It's a Wonderful Life, ' angelic figures take on the form of a famous group of compact galaxies known as Stephan's Quintet. In reality, these galaxies aren't so heavenly. Pictures from the Hubble telescope show that Stephan's Quintet has been doing some devilish things. At least two of the galaxies have been involved in high-speed, hit-and-run accidents, which have ripped stars and gas from neighboring galaxies and tossed them into space. But the galactic carnage also has spawned new life. Arising from the wreckage are more than 100 star clusters and several dwarf galaxies. The young clusters, each harboring up to millions of stars, are shown clearly for the first time in pictures taken by Hubble's Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2.


NASA/ESA, Jayanne English (University of Manitoba), Sally Hunsberger (Pennsylvania State University), Zolt Levay ( Space Telescope Science Institute), Sarah Gallagher (Pennsylvania State University), and Jane Charlton (Pennsylvania State University)

About the Image

NASA press release
NASA caption
Release date:19 July 2001, 15:00
Size:1370 x 2160 px

About the Object

Name:Stephan's Quintet
Type:Local Universe : Galaxy : Grouping : Cluster
Distance:300 million light years

Image Formats

Large JPEG
1.4 MB
Screensize JPEG
605.2 KB


Position (RA):22 36 4.82
Position (Dec):33° 58' 5.53"
Field of view:2.28 x 3.57 arcminutes
Orientation:North is 78.4° left of vertical

Colours & filters

450 nm Hubble Space Telescope
569 nm Hubble Space Telescope
814 nm Hubble Space Telescope

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