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Friday, February 19, 1999 Published at 15:49 GMT


Hubble captures cosmic cannibal

Galactic cannibalism at work

By BBC News Online Science Editor Dr David Whitehouse

This just released image from the Hubble Space Telescope shows the after-effects of one galaxy consuming another in a cosmic collision 100 million years ago.

In this composite image, the wisps of brownish dust are thought to be the remnants of a galaxy that collided and merged with the main galaxy in the image called NGC 1316.

Other signs of a violence can be seen including streams of stars that were ejected from the main galaxies outer regions by the gravitational forces of the encounter.

What remains of the smaller galaxy are dark dust clouds seen in silhouette against the bright star-rich central regions of the main galaxy.

A number of faint objects can also be seen scattered across the image. These include more distant reddish galaxies and bluish star clusters orbiting NGC 1316.

"The star clusters are too old to have been born during the collision which produced the dusty debris we see today, but they have not been around long enough to have been torn apart by galactic tidal forces," said Carl Grillmair of the California Institute of Technology.

"This means that they must either have been created in the course of a still earlier collision, or that they belonged to the galaxy which fell victim to NGC 1316."

Further observations will help astronomers to understand in detail how galaxies are stripped of their stars and gas in the course of galactic mergers.

NGC 1316 is located 53 million light-years away and lies deep in the in the constellation Fornax.

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