The Hubble Space Telescope has captured an image of IC 2431, which occurs more than 618 million light-years from Earth in the constellation of Cancer, according to the European Space Agency (ESA). The image captures a combination of star formation and tidal distortions caused by the gravitational interactions of these three galaxies.
Even though galaxies are merging with each other, there will be very few instances of celestial bodies crashing due to being so far apart. In some of its teaching materials, NASA uses the metaphor of grains of sand separated by the length of football fields to help understand the enormous range of distance between celestial bodies. When galaxies combine, they lose their shape to form a new ellipse.
But the thick dust cloud obscuring the center of the image indicates another phenomenon that occurs when galaxies merge: the clouds of gas and dust that are part of the galaxies collide with each other, sometimes resulting in the formation of new stars.
According to the European Space Agency (ESA), this image is part of the citizen science project at the Galaxy Zoo searching for “weird and wonderful” galaxies from Hubble observations.
I collected time from over 100,000 volunteers to classify 900,000 untested galaxies. The European Space Agency claims that the project achieved in 175 days what would have taken years if it had been undertaken by a professional astronomer.