Just when we begin to forget about the old Hubble Space Telescope, it comes back with another amazing look at the cosmos. It’s most recent target? Two spiral galaxies, more than a billion light-years from Earth, that appear to be colliding.
To be clear: They aren’t actually anywhere near each other, but from Hubble’s perspective, one is eclipsing the other. The galaxies are named SDSS J115331 and LEDA 2073461, and were imaged by Hubble as part of the Galaxy Zoo project, a citizen science project dedicated to classifying the countless galaxies in the observable universe.
A zoomable version of the image can be viewed here. Surrounding the galaxies you can see numerous other light sources, mainly other galaxies.
The image may not seem as crisp as the recent Webb Space Telescope images. Webb can see fainter light sources at better resolutions than Hubble; one recent deep field it took is made up of 690 individual images that capture many more galaxies than in the recent Hubble image.
It’s not uncommon for galaxies to overlap from our perspective. An early example from Webb was its 150-million-pixel shot of Stephan’s Quintet, a group of five galaxies that appear to swirl together, though only a couple of galaxies in the group are actually interacting with one another.
But Webb also sees different light than Hubble. Webb images mostly in the infrared and near-infrared wavelengths — useful for seeing ancient, redshifted light. Hubble images mostly in optical and ultraviolet wavelengths.
Hubble’s long career as a space observatory has hit a few stumbles lately. Several times in the last few years, the telescope has been forced into safe mode while engineers on Earth figured out technical issues with the spacecraft, which launched in 1991. But the telescope has staggered on.
Webb is widely considered Hubble’s successor, but as the veteran telescope shows with this dazzling image, it is not being replaced. On the contrary, it has a unique way of seeing our universe’s cosmic menagerie, and who are we to turn down such a feast for the eyes?
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