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article imageNASA’s Chandra spots galactic collision

By Jordan Howell     May 2, 2013 in Science
Two spiral galaxies, tethered by the gravitational pull of supermassive black holes at their centers, have collided in space and kicked up a massive cloud of hot dense gas.
NASA has released a new image from the Chandra X-ray Observatory of the galactic collision, which began some 200 million years ago and stirred up an enormous cloud of hot gas, spawning an impressive burst of star formation. The cloud of gas, known as a “halo,” measures approximately 300,000 light years across and has a mass of 10 billion Suns.
Located 400 million light years from earth, the system known as NGC 6240 existed at a time when the universe was still young and galaxy collisions were more common. Upon collision, the hot gases from the two galaxies violently mixed causing the formation of what NASA has dubbed a “baby boom” of new stars. Although many of these stars are no longer active, a recent report from The Astrophysical Journal says the presence of elements such as magnesium, neon, and oxygen is evidence that these baby boomers evolved very rapidly only to explode as supernovae.
The interaction between these colliding galaxies has long been a mystery to scientists. The dense cloud of gas near the center of these galaxies obscures optical and infrared light, but not x-ray light. NASA launched the Chandra X-ray Observatory in 1999 to observe x-rays emanating from deep space.
NASA says these two supermassive black holes will eventually merge into an even larger black hole millions of years from now. Animations provided by NASA depict what such a merger might look like.
More about NASA, Chandra Xray Observatory, Supermassive black hole