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New image gives insight into colliding galaxies

Updated: 2006-10-19 10:42
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WASHINGTON - A seemingly violent collision of two galaxies is in fact a fertile marriage that has birthed billions of new stars, and an image released on Tuesday gives astronomers their best view yet.

New image gives insight into colliding galaxies
This Hubble image of the Antennae galaxies is the sharpest yet of this merging pair of galaxies. As the two galaxies smash together, billions of stars are born, mostly in groups and clusters of stars. The brightest and most compact of these are called super star clusters. [Reuters]

The new image of the Antennae galaxies allows astronomers working with the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope to distinguish between new stars and the star clusters that form them.

Most of these clusters, created in the collision of the two galaxies, will disperse within 10 million years but about 100 of the largest will grow into "globular clusters" -- large groups of stars found in many galaxies, including our own Milky Way.

The Antennae galaxies, 68 million light years from Earth, began to fuse 500 million years ago.

A light year is the distance light waves travel in one year - about 6 trillion miles.

The image serves as a preview for the Milky Way's likely collision with the nearby Andromeda Galaxy, about 6 billion years from now.