This Hubble Space Telescope image from NASA/ESA is incredibly three-dimensional for a piece of deep-space imagery of interacting galaxies.
Arp 282 is a pair of interacting galaxies comprised of the Seyfert galaxy NGC 169 (bottom) and the galaxy IC 1559 (middle) (top). Both galaxies contain enormously intense centers known as active galactic nuclei (AGN), although this is difficult to discern in this view, which is good. If the image exhibited both AGNs in their entirety, their brightness would conceal the intricate tidal dynamics visible in this image.
Tidal forces occur when an object’s gravity distorts or stretches another object. The direction of tidal forces is away from the object with a lower mass and toward the object with a higher mass. When two galaxies interact tidally, gas, dust, and even complete star systems can gravitate toward or away from one galaxy. This process is seen in the photograph, as delicate streamers of matter connect the two galaxies.
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Astronomers now recognize that galaxies’ interactions with one another play a significant role in their evolution.
Galaxies can merge, collide, or brush against one another, each interaction altering their forms and structures dramatically. While such interactions are ubiquitous, it is exceedingly rare to acquire an image of two galaxies interacting in such an obviously dynamic manner.