September 9, 2004
A stunning image released today by the Gemini Observatory captures the graceful interactions of a galactic ballet, on a stage some 300 million light years away, that might better be described as a contortionist's dance. The galaxies, members of a famous troupe called Stephan's Quintet, are literally tearing each other apart. Their shapes are warped by gravitational interactions occurring over millions of years. Sweeping arches of gas and dust trace the interactions and possible ghost-like passage of the galaxies through one another. The ongoing dance deformed their structures while spawning a prolific fireworks display of star formation fueled by clouds of hydrogen gas that were shocked into clumps to form stellar nurseries.