When galaxies collide, stars seldom crash into each other because they are still separated by enormous distances. But as this Hubble Space Telescope view of NGC 3256 shows, gas and dust in colliding galaxies can come together with spectacular consequences, triggering the formation of vast numbers of new stars and clusters. NGC 3256, located about 100 million light-years from Earth in the constellation of Vela, is the result of the collision of two Milky Way-size galaxies that began about 500 million years ago. It is now an especially luminous starburst galaxy oriented face-on to Earth and showing two distinct nuclei, one of them shrouded by gas and dust, surrounded by more than 1,000 bright star clusters embedded in crisscrossing dust lanes and a large disk of molecular gas. The two galaxies merging in NGC 3256 had similar masses and in a few hundred million years, astronomers say, the two cores will complete the merger to produce a single large elliptical galaxy.
The drizzle of stars scattered across this image forms an irregular dwarf galaxy known as UGC 4879. Some 2.3 million light-years from its closest neighbour, UGC 4879’s isolation means that it has not interacted with any surrounding galaxies, making it an ideal laboratory for astronomers looking to understand the complex mysteries of starbirth throughout the universe.
Despite more than seven weeks having passed since opposition, the Solar System’s largest planet Jupiter is still big and bright in the UK evening sky of May, highest in the south around 10pm BST. Find out about the phenomena of Jupiter and its moons that you can see from the British Isles for the remainder of the month, starting with a transit of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot on 19 May.