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Galaxy Is Captured Feasting on Another

August 09, 2003|From Reuters

A big galaxy is gobbling a tiny one, just as astronomers have long suspected, and for the first time there is photographic evidence of this kind of galactic cannibalism, gathered by the Hubble Space Telescope.

The orbiting NASA telescope last year captured the image of the gorging galaxy as part of a much larger picture of a long-tailed galaxy known as the Tadpole. The Tadpole dominates the image, but the second-brightest object is a massive spiral galaxy, with an apparent companion that seems linked to the bigger galaxy.

U.S. and Australian astronomers were intrigued by this mismatched pair of cosmic objects. To confirm that this was a case of galactic cannibalism, they used the Keck Telescope in Hawaii, which was able to show plumes of stars streaming away from the dwarf galaxy's heart toward the big galaxy.

The galactic pair is situated about 2 billion light-years from Earth. The findings were published online Thursday in Science Express.

The tiny galaxy is being ripped apart by the gravitational forces of the larger one, and the dwarf galaxy's stolen stars will wind up as part of a spherical halo surrounding the flattened disk of the larger spiral galaxy, the astronomers said.

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