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Astronomers Study Rare ‘Polar-Ring’ Galaxy

Posted October 18, 2012, 12:01 PM HST Updated October 19, 2012, 09:21 AM HST
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This image of NGC 660 was taken in August using the spectrograph at the Gemini North Telescope atop Mauna Kea. The color composite was created by Travis Rector of the University of Alaska-Anchorage.

The Gemini Observatory has released an image of a clash between two galaxies millions of light years from Earth.

The object named NGC 660 is a “polar-ring” galaxy, named for their ring of stars, dust and gas which in this case extends 40,000 light years across space.

A light-year is a measure of distance describing how far light travels in one year, or about 6 trillion miles.

The image was taken using the spectrograph at the Gemini North Telescope atop the Big Island’s Mauna Kea.

Gemini spokesman Peter Michaud said only a handful of polar-ring galaxies have been discovered, so astronomers are still learning about their origins.

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Such galaxies represent the aftermath of a collision of two galaxies, with the ring formed from the remains of one galaxy’s core. The ring or halo contains active star-forming regions, creating blue and red supergiant stars.

The remaining host galaxy at the center of the galaxy contains what is thought to be in a dense cloud of dust and gas giving birth to a super cluster of huge, blue stars, many containing more than 100 times the mass of our Sun.

Astronomers believe that massive amounts of gas from one of the galaxies triggered the creation of those short-lived stars which explode into supernovae. The resulting energy creates a domino effect, generating new stars in what is known as a starburst galaxy, systems which are among the most dense and intense star-forming environments known.

NGC 660 is located about 40 million light-years from Earth, in the direction of the Pisces constellation.

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