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Teasing Apart Galaxy Collisions
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By Gordon Squires | May 25th, 2011

A few billion years from now, our Milky Way galaxy will collide with the Andromeda galaxy. This will mark a moment of both destruction and creation. The galaxies will lose their separate identities as they merge into one. At the same time, cosmic clouds of gas and dust will smash together, triggering the birth of new stars.

To better understand collisions like these, astronomers have assembled an atlas of several galactic "train wrecks."

The new images combine observations from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, which observes infrared light, and NASA's Galaxy Evolution Explorer spacecraft, which observes ultraviolet light. By analyzing information from different parts of the light spectrum, scientists can learn much more about the collision process than from a single wavelength alone.

"We're working with the theorists to give our understanding a reality check," said the lead author of a paper on the results, Lauranne Lanz of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Mass. "Our understanding will really be tested in a few billion years, when the Milky Way experiences its own collision."

Read the full story from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics at http://www.cfa.harvard.edu/news/2011/pr201117.html.

See the images in the Spitzer image gallery at http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/images/3607-sig11-005-Galactic-Train-Wrecks.