Since it left Earth on April 24, 1990, the Hubble telescope has delivered again and again stunning snapshots of the vast universe around us, and kept us in awe of the marvels of space. To mark the 27th anniversary of the telescope’s launch, NASA has released this epic image of two galaxies captured in one frame.
The image, which was released by NASA on April 20, captures two galaxies located 55 million lightyears away from Earth in the constellation Coma Berenices, in the Virgo Cluster of close to 2,000 galaxies. The level of detail is stunning, largely because the distance between us and the galaxies is “close in cosmic terms,” says Zolt Levay, an image processing specialist at the Space Telescope Science Institute, the research center responsible for the Hubble. The image is a composite of several dozen exposures, stitching together images that captured different colors and portions of the featured areas.
Being able to spot two neighboring galaxies so close together is rare, says Levay, although not unprecedented. In 2015, the Hubble captured an image of two merging galaxies in one picture. “The distribution of galaxies is uneven,” Levay says. ”While most of the separation between galaxies is very very large, they do occur in groups, and they do occur relatively close to each other.”
In the animation above, the galaxy on the left of the final image, NGC 4302, is known as an edge-on galaxy. It appears elongated because it is tilted at 90º, so we are viewing the frisbee-shaped galaxy from the side.
The center that appears as a dark lane is dust that absorbs light, striking a contrast with the stars that run on both sides.
The other galaxy, NGC 4298, is a spiral galaxy. It’s tilted at 70º, and therefore appears as a flattened oval.
According to NASA, the edge-on galaxy is about 87,000 lightyears in diameter, just slightly smaller than our own Milky Way. The diameter of the spiral galaxy featured in the image is 45,000 lightyears, merely a third of the size of the Milky Way’s diameter.
The Hubble observations were taken between Jan. 2 and Jan. 22.