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Two Clashing Galaxies Brighten Our Universe

Dec 12, 2014 03:20 PM EST
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A number of holidays are nearly upon us, and you neighborhood is likely looking a lot brighter at night. Little did you know that up above, the Universe has brightened as well. That's because a pair of Galaxies about 130 million light years away just had a get-together, producing some of the most concentrated super-bright X-ray light emissions ever seen.

That's at least according to a study recently published in The Astrophysical Journal, which details how the galaxies NGC 2207 and IC 2163, located in the middle of the constellation Canis Major, have played host to three supernovae explosions in the past 15 years alone. And as they continue to draw closer together, many more sparks are expected to fly, lighting up space with what experts call "ultraluminous X-ray sources (ULXs)."

Just like our own Milky Way galaxy, the pair are both spiral galaxies boasting many star systems known as X-ray binaries. These systems are relatively rare sights, consisting of a standard star (not unlike our Sun) orbiting the incredibly dense mass of a black hole or a neutron star. As the orbiting star slowly loses mass to the host's stellar mass, lots of X-rays are released.

ULXs appear to astronomers as really bright versions of these systems, but their true nature remains a mystery. It has been proposed that they might have something to do with a collision between galaxies.

A new image from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory (pictured above) was created after about five times more observing time than previous efforts to study ULXs in the Canis Major galaxy collision, resulting in the identification of a whopping 28 ULXs.

Analysis of these ULXs helps support a theory that they are more common in the wake of frequent new star formation, as colliding galaxies like this pair are well known to encourage intense star formation.

However, that's not always how things turn out. Another study has recently revealed that sometimes after two galaxies collide, the warm leftover matter can disrupt cool star nursery conditions, halting new star birth in its tracks.

With that in mind, the light show going on in Canis Major becomes all the more special.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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