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Space and New Ring System: Stars Clashing for Rare Fireworks Show

Aug 17, 2015 10:54 AM EDT
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Two astral systems slamming together? Seeing stars? It's true.

That is, near the Milky Way, two small star systems have been seen knocking together and producing bright fireworks. Researchers from the University of Manchester and the University of Hong Kong recently wrote about these findings, which are about 30 million light years from Earth, in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

This phenomenon happens when gases in each galaxy compress and form new stars, stirring up a light-filled ring of emissions that resemble a Catherine wheel firework. It's rare, because it only happens when two galaxies of similar mass run into one another with bulls-eye accuracy, and this is the nearest to Earth that this has occurred, according to a release.

This particular instance has been called "Kathryn's wheel," because it resembles the firework, and after Kathryn Zijlstra, who is married to one of the lead astronomers on the team, Prof. Albert Zijlstra of the University of Manchester, the release said.

The team found this Kathryn's Wheel during a wide survey of the Southern Milky Way, using the UK Schmidt Telescope, which is in Australia. The scope focused on a wavelength optical area around what is called the red "H-alpha" line at which Hydrogen is emitted, noted the release.

While searching the survey images for dying stars in our Milky Way, the astronomers found this large cosmic ring, behind dust and gas in the Ara constellation (the Altar), said the release.

The area is a ring galaxy, seven times nearer than anything astronomers have found before, and forty times closer than the Cartwheel galaxy, which is the most famous example of this type of collisional ring galaxy. The new area is hidden behind dense stars and near a very bright star, so it had been overlooked before. Because few other galaxies are nearby, such a collision generally has low odds, the statement noted.

Astronomers will be able to learn from this more about how collisions cause star formation, said Prof. Zijlstra in the release.

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

Follow Catherine on Twitter at @TreesWhales

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