Credit: NASA/ESA Hubble

An angelfish floats in the constellation of Hydra in this image of spiral galaxy NGC 4980 from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

Explore the curving tails of the slightly deformed shape of this spiral galaxy. What shapes or stories do you see? Leave a comment below.

Something has collided with NGC 4980. Although no galaxies are found nearby, the shape of the galaxy is slightly deformed. Distances between galaxies are huge. But every so often gravity pulls galaxies closer together. The stars themselves do not collide. Some may be thrown out of the galaxy, but most assume new orbits around the cores of their home galaxies. As the galaxies draw closer together, gas and dust clouds are pushed and pulled like taffy. New, hot blue stars blaze to life as nebulae are squeezed and compressed. This gives spiral arms in interacting galaxies a blue tinge. As we zoom into NGC 4980, look for areas of blue stars at the leading edges of the spiral arms. Look also at the center bulge. Galactic cores are usually a chaotic jumble of stars. But some galaxies like NGC 4980 keep their spiral arm structure all the way to the core. That detail makes the galaxy of interest to astronomers.

Dotting the background of this image, look for dozens of far-off galaxies. Older, cooler red stars dominate these elliptical and spiral galaxies. They are also much dimmer than NGC 4980 because they are farther away. This adds to their reddish color.

NGC 4980 lies about 80 million light-years from Earth toward the sprawling southern constellation of Hydra, the Snake.

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