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Chandra Observatory Captures New Image of Violently Colliding Galaxies

First Posted: Jun 03, 2014 10:08 AM EDT

Astronomers using the Chandra X-ray Observatory have caught a spectacular image revealing new details about violent collisions involving at least four clusters of galaxies. The new image could reveal a bit more about a certain complex region located more than 5 billion light-years from Earth.

The researchers actually combined the new image with an earlier one taken from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope (HST). With the two images, the scientists could see that the collisions are triggering a host of phenomena that they're not trying to understand.

"The complex shape of this region is unique; we've never spotted anything like this before," said Reinout van Weeren, one of the researchers, in a news release. "The shape probably is the result of the multiple ongoing collisions."

The HST image actually forms the background of the composite image; the X-ray emission detected by Chandra is apparent in blue and radio emission seen by the Very Large Array (VLA) can be viewed in red. The X-rays indicate hot, tenuous gas that pervade the region containing the galaxy clusters, and the oddly-shaped red feature at the center is probably a region where shocks caused by the collisions are accelerating particles that then interact with magnetic fields.

The combination of these images will give researchers one of the best-studied examples of cluster-cluster collisions yet known. This, in particular, will shed light on what happens during the complex interactions during cluster mergers. Together, the merging clusters are called MACS J0717+3745.

The findings reveal a bit more about these merging galaxies, which should largely help in the future.

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