Image Tour: Antennae Galaxies

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Take a tour through the phases of the stellar life cycle, put on stunning display by the interaction of the Antennae Galaxies.

Produced by the Space Telescope Science Institute’s Office of Public Outreach in collaboration with NASA’s Universe of Learning partners: Caltech/IPAC, Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Sonoma State University.

Image credit: NASA,ESA, SAO, CXC, JPL-Caltech, and STScI
Acknowledgment: J. DePasquale (Harvard-Smithsonian CfA), and B. Whitmore (STScI)

Written by Leah Ramsay
Designed by Dani Player
Subject matter expertise from Dr. Sabrina Stierwalt, California Institute of Technology 
Editorial and design input from Yesenia Perez, Dr. Quyen Hart, Dr. Rutuparna Das (Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian), Dr. Varoujan Gorjian (JPL)
Music courtesy of Yesh Music (ASCAP)


Text, The Antennae Galaxies Image Tour. C-shaped galaxies of shades of pink, blue, and yellow light with white dots scattered throughout.

Text, Fast Facts. Constellation -- Corvus. Distance from Earth -- 68 million light-years. Wavelengths of light -- X-ray, visible, infrared.

Two colliding spiral galaxies put all stages of the stellar life cycle on stunning display.

Galaxies NGC 4038 and NCG 4039 began interacting with each other more than 100 million years ago. The collision of the two spiral giants is still occurring.

Tour Stops -- Galaxy cores. NGC 4038 is located near the top of the galaxies and NGC 4039 is located near the bottom. Text, Though their spiral shapes have been distorted, the bright center of each galaxy is still visible.

The two dense galaxies are home to old stars that predate the galaxies' interaction.

Tour stop -- Colliding gases. A bright shade of red in the middle of the galaxies is outlined. Text, Where the two galaxies meet, gas collides and compresses to form new stars.

Heated by stars forming inside, huge dust clouds glow with infrared light, shown in red.

Tour stop -- Diffuse gas. Text, Massive stars formed by gas compressed in the collision burn out quickly and explode as supernovas. An area between the galaxies with a blue, cloud-like shape.

Diffuse gas that has been heated by supernova explosions glow in X-ray light, shown in blue.

The hot interstellar gas is rich with heavy elements dispersed by supernovas, including oxygen, iron, and silicon.

Tour Stop -- Super-star cluster. An area at the top of the C with three, bright dots in a row. Text, So much star formation is triggered by the gas of the galaxies slamming into each other that young stars form super-star clusters.

Eventually, most of the bright, visible light from the super-star clusters will fade. The stars will disperse from the clusters and become part of the galaxy's collective glow.

Tour Stop -- High-energy source. All the colors fade except for light and dark shades of blue. Text, The bright areas glowing blue with X-ray light throughout the image are the dense, high-energy remnants of massive stars. Bright blue dots are located on the top, bottom left, and middle right.

The huge stars were created by the colliding gas of the galaxy merger.

Once the massive stars burn through their fuel, they collapse, forming either a black hole or neutron star. The X-ray sources glowing here indicate a black hole or neutron star actively pulling material from a companion star.

Text, Studying the Antennae in different wavelengths of light provides a fuller picture of their ongoing interaction.

The full "life cycle" of massive stars is on stunning display in the Antennae galaxies, from formation via dense colliding gas, to their afterlives as neutron stars or black holes.