January 9, 2001: This visible-light picture, taken by the Hubble telescope, reveals an intergalactic "pipeline" of material flowing between two battered galaxies that bumped into each other about 100 million years ago. The pipeline [the dark string of matter] begins in NGC 1410 [the galaxy at left], crosses over 20,000 light-years of intergalactic space, and wraps around NGC 1409 [the companion galaxy at right] like a ribbon around a package. The galaxies reside about 300 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Taurus.
Scientists believe that the tussle between these compact galaxies somehow created the pipeline, but they're not certain why NGC 1409 was the one to begin gravitationally siphoning material from its partner. And they don't know where the pipeline begins in NGC 1410. More perplexing to astronomers is that NGC 1409 is seemingly unaware that it is gobbling up a steady flow of material. A stream of matter funneling into the galaxy should have fueled a spate of star birth. But astronomers don't see it. They speculate that the gas flowing into NGC 1409 is too hot to gravitationally collapse and form stars.
The glancing blow between the galaxies was enough, however, to toss stars deep into space and ignite a rash of star birth in NGC 1410. The arms of NGC 1410, an active, gas-rich spiral galaxy classified as a Seyfert, are awash in blue, the signature color of star-forming regions. The bar of material bisecting the center of NGC 1409 also is a typical byproduct of galaxy collisions.
Credits: NASA, William C. Keel (University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa)