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HubbleSite Hubble Sees Spiral Bridge of Young Stars Between Two Ancient Galaxies

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Space Telescope Science



It seems like our compulsive universe can be downright capricious when it comes to making oddball-looking things in the cosmos. The latest surprise to Hubble astronomers is a 100,000-light-year-long structure that looks like a string of pearls twisted into a corkscrew shape. This Slinky-like structure forms a bridge between two giant elliptical galaxies that are colliding. The "pearls" on the Slinky are superclusters of blazing, blue-white, newly born stars. The whole assembly, which looks like a tug-of-war, must result from the gravitational tidal forces present in the collision.

If that's not strange enough, the underlying physics behind the "beads on a string" shape is related to describing the behavior of self-gravitating clumps of gas. It's analogous to the process where rain falls in drops rather than in continuous filaments from clouds. It's called the Jeans instability, and it can play out on distance scales of enormous orders of magnitude – from being inches across to many thousands of light-years in length.

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