The Hubble Space Telescope has spotted an unprecedented 100,000 light-year long structure wrapped around two colliding galaxies. The structure resembles a pearl necklace, with the ‘pearls' being individual super-clusters of young blue stars evenly spaced 3,000 light-years apart.
The stellar pearls were likely spawned by the increase in density of material as the two galaxies collided. The galaxies are located inside the dense galaxy cluster SDSS J1531+3414 approximately 4.5 billion light-years away.
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"We were surprised to find this stunning morphology, which must be very short-lived (perhaps about 10 million years, which is a fraction of the time it takes for galaxies to merge)," said Grant Tremblay, of the European Southern Observatory in Garching, Germany, in a Hubble news release. "We've long known that the ‘beads on a string' phenomenon is seen in the arms of spiral galaxies and in tidal bridges between interacting galaxies.
"However, this particular supercluster arrangement has never been seen before in giant merging elliptical galaxies," he said. "We have two monsters playing tug-of-war with a necklace, and its ultimate fate is an interesting question in the context of the formation of stellar superclusters and the merger-driven growth of a galaxy's stellar component."