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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 August 2005, 06:24 GMT 07:24 UK
Telescope views galaxy collision
Image: Gemini Observatory
New stars and planets may be forming within the old galaxies (Image: Gemini Observatory)
Two galaxies collide in the constellation of Pisces, some 100 million light-years away from Earth.

Astronomers say it gives an insight into what may happen to our own region of space some 5 billion years from now.

The Milky Way is expected to merge with the neighbouring Andromeda Galaxy, which will eat up our Solar System.

The image was captured last month by an instrument on the Gemini North Telescope at Mauna Kea, Hawaii.

Professor Ian Robson, director of the UK Astronomy Technology Centre, which built the instrument, said that when he first saw the image, it sent shivers down his spine.

"Our saving grace is that we have about 5 billion years left before we get swallowed up by Andromeda," he said.

"Nevertheless, it's amazing to see so far in advance how planet Earth and our own galaxy will ultimately end. Glad to say I won't be around when the fireball happens."

The combined galaxies, known as NGC 520, have lost their shape as a result of the collision. Astronomers believe new stars are forming in the faint red glowing areas seen above and beneath the middle of the image.

It is one of many snapshots of distant galaxies and star forming regions taken by the Gemini Multi-Object Spectrograph (GMOS) since it was installed in 2001.

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