The ‘ancestor’ of the James-Webb telescope is still in good shape. It has just delivered a spectacular shot of three galaxies located 425 million light-years away.
While waiting for the first images from the James-Webb space telescope, which should not reach us before the summer, its ancestor Hubble, launched in 1990 and operational for more than thirty years, continues to delight us with sumptuous shots. One of the latest is particularly striking. Composed of photographs taken by the WFC3 wide-field camera installed on Hubble in 2009 and the ACS camera installed in 2002, broken in 2007 and repaired in 2009, it invites you to discover a group of galaxies called NGC 7764A and located at about 425 million light-years from Earth, in the constellation Phoenix, a faint constellation in the southern hemisphere.
The set consists of three individually named galaxies: NGC 7764A1 (top right), NGC 7764A2 (center), and NGC 7764A3 (bottom left). Which seem involved in a real game of cosmic bowling. Indeed, the galaxies in the upper right and in the center seem to interact with each other and give the feeling of having been struck at high speed by the third, in the shape of a bowling ball. But these appearances are deceiving, because this kind of interactions between galaxies occur over very long periods of time and, moreover, galaxies quite rarely collide head-on with each other.
In reality, despite their close proximity, astronomers still don’t know if the two rightmost galaxies are actually interacting with each other, even if that is possible. The American space agency NASA notes, on the other hand, that chance had the good idea to give them the appearance of a famous imaginary ship, the USS Enterprise from the cult American series Star Trek. The resemblance is uncanny, isn’t it?