Hubble revisits tangled NGC 6240

Not all galaxies are neatly shaped, as this new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image of NGC 6240 clearly demonstrates. Hubble previously released an image of this galaxy back in 2008, but the knotted region, shown here in a pinky-red hue at the centre of the galaxies, was only revealed in these observations from Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 and Advanced Camera for Surveys.

NGC 6240 lies 400 million light-years away in the constellation of Ophiuchus (The Serpent Holder). This galaxy has an elongated shape with branching wisps, loops and tails. This mess of gas, dust and stars bears more than a passing resemblance to a butterfly and, though perhaps less conventionally beautiful, a lobster.

This bizarrely-shaped galaxy did not begin its life looking like this; its distorted appearance is a result of a galactic merger that occurred when two galaxies drifted too close to one another. This merger sparked bursts of new star formation and triggered many hot young stars to explode as supernovae. A new supernova was discovered in this galaxy in 2013, named SN 2013dc. It is not visible in this image, but its location is indicated here.

At the centre of NGC 6240 an even more interesting phenomenon is taking place. When the two galaxies came together, their central black holes did so too. There are two supermassive black holes within this jumble, spiralling closer and closer to one another. They are currently only some 3000 light-years apart, incredibly close given that the galaxy itself spans 300 000 light-years. This proximity secures their fate as they are now too close to escape each other and will soon form a single immense black hole.

Links

Credit:

NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration, and A. Evans (University of Virginia, Charlottesville/NRAO/Stony Brook University)

About the Image

Id:potw1520a
Type:Observation
Release date:18 May 2015, 10:00
Size:3468 x 3468 px

About the Object

Name:NGC 6240
Type:Local Universe : Galaxy : Type : Interacting
Distance:400 million light years
Constellation:Ophiuchus
Category:Galaxies

Image Formats

Large JPEG
4.4 MB
Screensize JPEG
200.3 KB

Zoomable


Wallpapers

1024x768
226.5 KB
1280x1024
391.9 KB
1600x1200
616.4 KB
1920x1200
802.3 KB
2048x1536
1.1 MB

Coordinates

Position (RA):16 52 59.26
Position (Dec):2° 24' 4.47"
Field of view:2.89 x 2.89 arcminutes
Orientation:North is 74.6° left of vertical

Colours & filters

BandWavelengthTelescope
Optical
B
435 nm Hubble Space Telescope
ACS
Optical
B
467 nm Hubble Space Telescope
WFC3
Optical
R
621 nm Hubble Space Telescope
WFC3
Optical
H-Alpha
680 nm Hubble Space Telescope
WFC3
Infrared
I
814 nm Hubble Space Telescope
ACS

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