Cosmic Fireworks Mark Spectacular Galaxy Collision Near the Milky Way

First Posted: Aug 17, 2015 02:23 PM EDT

Scientists have spotted a spectacular galaxy collision lurking behind the Milky Way. This is the closest such system ever found, and may tell researchers a bit more about the interactions near our galaxy.

The galaxy itself is 30 million light-years away, which means that it's relatively close by. Dubbed "Kathryn's Wheel," this galaxy is the result of a collision between two galaxies of similar mass. Shockwaves from the collision compress reservoirs of gas in each galaxy and trigger the formation of new stars. This creates a spectacular ring of intense emission, and lights up the system like a firework.

This galaxy was discovered during a wide field survey of the Southern Milky Way that was done with the UK Schmidt Telescope. This telescope used a narrow wavelength optical region called the red "H-alpha" emission line of gaseous hydrogen.

"Not only is this system visually stunning, but it's close enough to be an ideal target for detailed study," said Quentin Parker, one of the researchers, in a news release. "The ring is also quite low in mass-a few thousand million suns, or less than 1 percent of the Milky Way-so our discovery shows that collision rings can form around much smaller galaxies than we thought.."

Smaller galaxies are more common than large ones, which means that the collisional rings could be as much as time times as common than previously thought. The researchers plan to carry out more detailed studies on larger telescopes in order to see whether or not this is true.

The findings are published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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