WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Images of colliding galaxies show them spinning, sliding and slipping into one another, wreaking stellar destruction that will give birth to new and larger galaxies.
The Maryland-based Space Telescope Science Institute released 59 new images from the Hubble Space Telescope on Thursday to celebrate the 18th anniversary of its launch.
“This new Hubble atlas dramatically illustrates how galaxy collisions produce a remarkable variety of intricate structures in never-before-seen detail,” the Institute said in a statement.
“Astronomers observe only one out of a million galaxies in the nearby universe in the act of colliding. However, galaxy mergers were much more common long ago when they were closer together, because the expanding universe was smaller.”
The color images, available online at hubblesite.org/news/2008/16, are a look back in time. It takes hundreds of millions of years for galaxies to merge and the light from their stars has traveled for hundreds of millions of years across space.
Because it orbits outside the Earth’s atmosphere, Hubble’s cameras can take extremely sharp images.
Its future was controversial, as it requires regular servicing by space shuttle astronauts to stay in working condition.
After the 2003 Columbia space shuttle disaster, a servicing mission initially planned for 2004 was canceled.
NASA at one point was planning to abandon the telescope, hugely popular among astronomers. After an outcry, the U.S. space agency relented and a final Hubble servicing mission is scheduled for August.
In 2013, the James Webb Space Telescope is scheduled to replace Hubble.
Reporting by Maggie Fox; Editing by Doina Chiacu