Hubble Space Telescope, a joint project by NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), has been witnessing mysterious events in the Universe for over three decades. It recently captured a stunning image of a triple galaxy merger in progress some 681 million light-years away from Earth, in the Cancer constellation. The image also shows a tumultuous mixture of star formation and tidal distortions caused by the gravitational interactions of the galactic trio. At the centre, the image is obscured by a thick cloud of dust, but the light from a background galaxy can be seen piercing its outer extremities.
The image is part of a series of Hubble observations looking into “weird and wonderful galaxies” discovered by the Galaxy Zoo citizen science initiative, according to ESA.
IC 2431 was discovered on February 24, 1896, by French astronomer Stephane Javelle.
The Galaxy Zoo project seeks public and amateur astronomer assistance in classifying a million galaxies. Those who participate can contribute directly to scientific research while also getting a chance to see the gorgeous diverse galaxies that make up the Universe. These volunteers examine some of the more unique galaxies discovered so far using Hubble’s powerful Advanced Camera for Surveys.
ESA said the initial Galaxy Zoo project achieved “what would have been years of work for a professional astronomer in only 175 days” and it led to the flourishing of similar astronomical citizen science projects. Later projects have included the largest ever studies of galaxy mergers and tidal dwarf galaxies.
Launched in 1990, the Hubble telescope has revolutionised astronomy with its unobstructed view of the universe. As it is now ageing, NASA launched its successor — James Webb Space Telescope — on December 25, 2021.