Tinker Bell Goes to the Stars

Credit: ESO

Tinker Bell has managed to get herself into the stars in this image from the European Southern Observatory.

Explore this triple merger of galaxies named ‘The Bird’ by astronomers. What shapes or patterns do you see? Share in a note below.

An irregular galaxy makes up the heart and body of this grouping. Tidal tails of two massive spiral galaxies make up the wings. When galaxies interact, gravity can distort spiral arms. Some stars are pushed toward the center of their galaxy. Other stars are flung far outside. Many interacting galaxies show these tell-tale tidal tails. Galactic interactions also cause a flurry of star birth as dust and gas is smashed together. Astronomers think that the two spiral galaxies began to interact initially. But over time in a rare event, the smaller irregular galaxy joined the mix creating the unique shape we see today. Astronomers see very few triple galactic mergers.

The “wings” of these galaxies extend more than 100,000 light-years into space. That is about the same size as our Milky Way Galaxy. The head of this trio glows red from an eruption of new star formation. Hot blue stars can be seen at the head’s crown.

Light from the “The Bird” has been traveling for a very long time. The group of galaxies lies more than 650 million light-years from Earth.

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The ancient peoples saw pictures in the sky. From those patterns in the heavens, ancient storytellers created legends about heroes, maidens, dragons, bears, centaurs, dogs and mythical creatures...
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