The Hubble Space Telescope has witnessed a violent interstellar drama, stunning photos of which have just been released.
Hubble observed the spiral galaxy ESO 137-001 getting torn apart as it made its way through the galaxy cluster Abell 3627, also known as the Norma Cluster.
Spiral galaxy ESO 137-001 never had a chance to survive its encounter with the Norma Cluster as it was just one galaxy against many. Galaxy cluster Abell 3627, located around 200 million light-years from the Milky Way galaxy, contains hundreds, or even thousands, of galaxies bound together by gravity.
The galaxy cluster is surrounded by hot gas and is in the process of stripping spiral galaxy ESO 137-001 of young stars. In the Hubble photo, the hot young stars, along with surrounding gas, being ripped away from the spiral galaxy by Abell 3627 are seen as blue streaks.
The Norma Cluster is located near an unusual part of space known as the Great Attractor. This region of space has an incredible gravitational pull that is drawing our Milky Way, the Virgo Cluster and other galaxy clusters to it, and what's behind this force is currently unknown, reports Universe Today. The Great Attractor is located behind the Milky Way, and the gas and dust at the center of our galaxy is blocking any view of what’s behind the force pulling these galaxies at a rate of 600 kilometers per second (37.3 miles per second), but it is believed to be a super cluster of galaxies.
According to the Hubble release, the process is known as ram pressure stripping. In this case, the superheated plasma, reaching temperatures of 100 million degrees Fahrenheit, at the center of Abell 3627 is putting pressure on ESO 137-001, leading to a drag force that is ripping the young stars and gas from the spiral galaxy. This process can also occur to galaxies within the cluster.
Other evidence of this process can be seen in the distortion of the spiral galaxy’s disc, but the galaxy's own gravitational influence will keep it from being totally torn apart. Nevertheless, ESO 137-001 has been stripped of most of its cold gas that is vital for star formation activity, which means it will be unable to create new stars.
A video zooming in on the "crime" scene can be viewed below.