The newly discovered collision of two galaxies millions of years ago, which sparked rings of fire that are still expanding, may offer new clues on the origins of the universe, astronomers said on Wednesday.
New images of the Andromeda Galaxy were captured by an infrared camera aboard the Spitzer Space Telescope and are described in the science journal ‘Nature’.The pictures offer fresh insight into the ever-changing nature of galaxies, said Harvard University astrophysicist Giovanni Fazio.
Fazio, the mastermind behind the Spitzer, is considered one of the world’s top space pioneers.
“We thought it was a plain, ordinary galaxy with two companions around it. But now we understand its structure. It will be used as a computer model to understand and study the early universe,” Fazio said.
The cosmic crash is believed to have happened 210 million years ago when dinosaurs roamed the earth, but is a relatively recent occurrence in the grander scheme of time, scientists said.
“That is like this morning in cosmology terms,” David Block, a professor at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg who led the research project, told reporters at the release of the findings.
After the images from the telescope were entered into a computer model, it revealed how a small galaxy hit the center, or “sweet spot,” of its larger neighbor with such force it fired off new stars, space dust and two rings of fire.
Roughly comparable to a ripple effect from a stone dropped in water, the rings continue to spread at a rate of 50 km (30 miles) a second.
On a clear night, the Andromeda Galaxy is visible to the naked eye as it is the closest spiral galaxy to Earth — separated by a distance of about 2.5 million light years — and to our own Milky Way Galaxy.
Infrared images can look much deeper into the universe to show how galaxies, stars and planets were first formed and their current make-up.
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