The Hubble Space Telescope has managed to capture two galaxies making contact for the first time. The pair known as UGC 2369 will merge to become a single galaxy in the future. For now, the two galaxies are in close proximity thanks to gravitational forces.
The galaxies have been observed to be swirling around each other due to gravity. As per the European Space Agency, they are currently connected by a bridge of dust, gas and stars akin to a situation of holding hands. Right now UGC 2369 is 424 million light-years away from us.
Galaxies primarily belong to galactic groups or clusters making them “extroverts”. As a result of which it is quite common for two galaxies to have an interaction between them. Even though there is no collision between galaxies, the shape of the galaxy can be distorted by the strong gravitational pull. This makes galactic observations fascinating to view. In phenomena where no contact is made such as galaxy fly-bys, there can be a creation of permanent warps, tidal tails extending from the center of the galaxy resulting in strange shapes. It also induces bursts of star formation.
However, the galactic mergers are quite destructive in nature. It amplifies when the size of the two galaxies are almost the same. The frequency of these huge events is lower than the normal mergers. It is considered that the Milky Way might face a merger in the future. Currently, two dwarf galaxies in the vicinity of the Milky Way, Canis Major and Sagittarius are being destroyed and absorbed in the Milky Way.
Astronomers are pretty sure that Andromeda and the Milky Way will collide at some point in the future, even though it might be after several billion years and result in one galaxy. The details of how it is supposed to occur are still up for debates. This new galaxy is termed as “Milkomeda” by ESA.
Hubble Space Telescope has captured several galaxies in its 30 years of operations. It has also captured galaxies dating as far as the time just after the Big Bang occurred. It released the Ultra Deep Field in 2016. The merger of UGC 2369 is at an advanced stage. By training the Telescope on this merger, we can understand the fate of our own galaxy in the future.