A Disintegrating Galaxy
January 7, 2004
This is an artist's conception of the spiral galaxy C153. The galaxy looks peculiar because it is plowing through the heart of a distant galaxy cluster at 4.5 million miles per hour. Gas compressed along the galaxy's leading edge, like snow before a plow, ignited a firestorm of new star birth. The ram pressure of external hot gas trapped in the cluster is stripping away the galaxy's own cooler gas, leaving behind its skeletal spiral arms of dust and stars. The galaxy trails a 200,000-light-year-long streamer of gas bleeding off the disk. In this painting the streamers appear foreshortened in this head-on view of the approaching galaxy. This painting is based on observations from optical, radio and X-ray telescopes. Parallel observations at different wavelengths trace how stars, gas, and dust are being tossed around and torn from the fragile galaxy.