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article imageAstronomers compile a cosmic collision atlas

By Elizabeth Cunningham Perkins     May 25, 2011 in Science
Astronomers predict our Milky Way Galaxy will collide with the Andromeda Galaxy five billion years from now in a mind-boggling disaster that will destroy and unite the two, creating an immense gassy star-birth cloud. But they seek a better bigger picture.
To learn more about our galactic past and future by studying a model of the complete galactic collision process, astronomers from Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) announced they have combined data from two space telescopes to construct a galactic "train wreck" record, a theoretical atlas of this titanic merging process from start to finish, using an array of images of colliding galaxies at various stages.
Today, in a press conference at the 218th meeting of the American Astronomical Society, project leader Lauranne Lanz presented new images that combine observations from the Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) spacecraft that observes ultraviolet light and NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope that observes infrared light.
According to Lenz and her team:
Analyzing light waves from more than one part of the electromagnetic spectrum allows scientists to study different features of galaxies.
Spitzer takes in infrared emission data from stellar surfaces and star-warmed dust, while GALEX sees ultraviolet emissions from hot young stars. Combining the two highlights regions of rapid star formation, helping astronomers chart new stars.
Though galaxy interactions generate star formation, some collisions spark only a few, and the scientists hope to learn more about these differences by studying computer simulations guided by these new findings.
In a prepared statement, Lenz said, “We’re working with the theorists to give our understanding a reality check. Our understanding will really be tested in five billion years, when the Milky Way experiences its own collision.”
More about Cosmic collision, Spitzer telescope, Galex, American Astronomical Society, Andromeda galaxy
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