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This deep eye in the sky is the effect of two enormous galaxies colliding


The effects of two galaxies crashing with one another have produced a strange cosmic phenomenon, spinning arcs of star establishment that apparently look like a human eye. The optical illusion is the effect of a spiral galaxy named IC 2163 'sideswiping' another spiral galaxy called as NGC 2207, and while these types of interactions are known to occur, it's tremendously unusual for them to end up looking like this.


Astronomer Michele Kaufman, who witnessed the phenomenon while a scientist at Ohio State University says, "Even though galaxy impacts of this type are not rare, only a small number of galaxies with eye-like, or ocular, arrangements are identified to exist.”



Kaufman's crew discovered the eye-like arrangement, found about 114 million light-years from Earth in the direction of the constellation Canis Major, with the help of Atacama Large Millimeter/sub-millimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile.

M. Kaufman; B. Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF); ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO); NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope

The researchers think that the nature and location of the orange arcs, which are ended up of traces of gas discovered by ALMA, are due to the external spiral arms of IC 2163 and NGC 2207 rasping one another. It's possible that this early rasping is actually just the first stage of a last merger between the two galaxies. This wouldn't ultimately happen for a long time, although the researchers count themselves lucky to have observed the ocular apparition while it still holds.

Kaufman says, "Gigantic eyelids last only a limited tens of millions of years, which is extremely brief in the lifetime of a galaxy. Finding one in such a fresh formed state provides us a brilliant opportunity to study what happens when one galaxy collides with another."

The orange gas arcs are made up from traces of carbon monoxide, which is one of the rarest fuels of star development. The scientists say this gas in the external eyelids is running inwards to IC 2163's spiral center at speeds more than 100 km/s (62 m/s). But the faster it gets, the more it slows down, ultimately bring into line itself with the cycle of the galaxy.

Kaufman says, "Not only do we discover a quick deceleration of the gas as it travels from the external to the inner edge of the eyelids, but we also size that the more rapidly it decelerates, the thicker the molecular gas becomes. This straight measurement of compression indicates how the colliding between the two galaxies pushes gas to smash, spawn new star groups and form these stunning eyelid structures."

In the image below, you can see the eye in a wider context, with IC 2163 on the left, and the utmost extents of its higher eyelid still interacting with NGC 2207's own gas curves, on the right.

M. Kaufman; B. Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF); ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO); NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope

Behind the carbon monoxide tracks discovered by ALMA, the blue images is visible light as detected by the Hubble telescope. Researchers think these kinds of impacts between galaxies would have been rarer when the Universe was new, when such star structures occurred in faster proximity with one another. But back then, it's possible that eye-like establishments were even rarer, as enormous disks would have been deeper and more unbalanced in formation, meaning optical structures would have been less expected to take shape like this. In any case, seeing the eye in the sky now is absolutely unusual, and the fact that it backs up our knowledge of how these spiral gas clouds travel in space means it's a win-win for science and vision.

Astrophysicist Curtis Struck from Iowa State University says, "This sign for a strong surprise in the eyelids is awesome. It's all very well to have a concept and recreations signifying it should be true, but real observational proof is great."

The discoveries are published in The Astrophysical Journal.

Image credit: M. Kaufman; B. Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF); ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO); NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope

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