While NGC 278 may look serene, it is anything but. The galaxy is currently undergoing an immense burst of star formation as revealed in this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image. However, NGC 278’s star formation is somewhat unusual: why is it only taking place within an inner ring some 6,500 light-years across and not extend to the galaxy’s outer edges?
It is known today that merging galaxies play a large role in their evolution, and the formation of elliptical galaxies in particular. However, there are only a few merging systems close enough to be observed in depth. The pair of interacting galaxies seen here — known as NGC 3921 — is one of these systems. But ‘close’ is a relative term: NGC 3921 lies 270 million light-years away.