NASA, J. English (U. Manitoba), S. Hunsberger, S. Zonak, J. Charlton, S. Gallagher (PSU), and L. Frattare (STScI)

Distorted galaxies form the letter “L” in this image of Seyfert’s Sextet. Six objects appear in this image from NASA‘s Hubble Space Telescope but only four galaxies are interacting. The face-on spiral in the center of the image is a background galaxy five times farther away than the others.

Explore the image. This group of galaxies occupies a space just 100,000 light-years across; smaller than the Milky Way Galaxy. The distorted shapes of the galaxies tell a tale of close interactions and mergers. The spiral galaxy at the top appears almost untouched, with just a small warp the spiral arms. Travel across the dark band along the galactic plane of the center galaxy. The splash of stars in the lower right is a long, tidal tail of stars torn from one of the galaxies during the interactions. This warped tail is 35,000 light-years long. Halos of stars and streamers of dust link the galaxies as they continue to move closer to forming a larger galaxy, possibly an elliptical galaxy, far in the future. Many background galaxies can be seen in the image as well.

One thing we don’t see in this image are halos of blue stars, the tell-tale sign of new star formation. In many other galaxy interactions, clusters of new hot stars are seen throughout the galaxies. Astronomer’s may be seeing Seyfert’s Sextet at the beginning of its interactions.

Astronomers named the sextet for Carl Seyfert who discovered the grouping in the late 1940s. Seyfert’s Sextet is found about 190 million light years away from Earth toward the constellation Serpens, the Serpent. Light left this galactic merger during the Jurassic Period on Earth when the most popular dinosaurs, such as Allosaurus, Brachiosaurus and Stegasaurus roamed in large conifer forests.