NASA has shared an image of a pair of galaxies that look like a penguin and its egg millions of light-years from Earth.
Taking to Instagram yesterday, NASA shared the image taken by its Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes of Arp 142 which “bears an uncanny resemblance to a penguin guarding an egg.”
The two galaxies are 23 million light-years from Earth — 10 times farther from home than the Andromeda galaxy.
NASA explains that “the ‘penguin’ part of the pair is a spiral galaxy twisted and pulled by the pull of its neighbor. Due to its mix of features — new stars, strands of gas, and others – its distortion is readily visible. The ‘egg,’ in contrast, appears featureless due to its smooth distribution of old stars. This hides any shaping caused by its neighbor.”
The space agency notes that over time “gravity will bring these two galaxies closer together until they merge into one. This type of merging likely occurred in the history of the most large galaxies we see today, including the Milky Way.”
The ‘penguin’ is officially known as NGC 2936; its newly-formed stars are seen in bluish filaments as captured by the Hubble telescope; the strands of gas mixed with dust are seen as red filaments which are detected by the longer wavelengths of infrared light by the Spitzer telescope.
The ‘egg’s’ government name is NGC 2937 and it is featureless in the image; the green glow indicates that it is a population of much older stars. The fact that Spitzer didn’t pick up any of the red dust shows that it has long since lost its reservoirs of gas and dust from which new stars are born.
“Combining light from across the visible and infrared spectrums helps astronomers piece together the complex story of the life cycles of galaxies,” says NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The much newer James Webb Space Telescope has yet to capture this penguin and egg galaxy but if and when it does we should be able to see it in even greater clarity.
Image credits: NASA-ESA/STScI/AURA/JPL-Caltech