Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/STScI/H. Inami (SSC/Caltech)

Merging galaxies form the shapes of a turtle and bird in this image from NASA‘s Hubble Space Telescope.

Explore the image of these interacting galaxies known as II Zw 096. What stories or pictures do you see? Leave a note below. I imagine a story of a bird and turtle created from a single egg. The bird, to the left, takes flight after being born while brother turtle, to the right, swims upward.

The collection of stars is really a galactic merger. Usually galaxies are very far apart. Sometimes they come close to each other. The gravity of both bring them closer and closer. In hundreds of millions of years, they will become one larger elliptical galaxy. Other examples of galactic smashups include the Antennae Galaxy and the Tadpole Galaxy.

As galaxies pass close to each other, gas and dust in the outer arms of the galaxies is pushed and pulled together like taffy. This creates a perfect environment for stars to form. A bloom of stars is taking place within this galactic merger. Astronomers call these starburst galaxies. Look at the center of the image between the two galaxies. In infrared, this region glows brightly. Infrared is a portion of the light spectrum just below what our eyes can see. We feel infrared light as heat. The heat of lots of stars being created creates the red glow we see. Thick dust blocks the visible light from this burst of new star formation.

From the nose of our bird and turtle, the galaxies span about 50,000 light years. The light from II Zw 096 is more than a half billion years old. The ancient light of these galaxies has been traveling from the direction of the constellation Delphinus, the Dolphin, for about 525 million years.