R-Rated: Space Telescopes Witness Cosmic 'Bloodbath'

If the Universe made a slasher flick, it would star the innocent bystander spiral galaxy ESO 137-001 and violent baddie galaxy cluster Abell 3627. Continue reading →

If the Universe made a slasher flick, it would star the innocent ESO 137-001 and violent baddie Abell 3627. In one scene, the beautiful ESO 137-001 would drift unwittingly into the apparently serene heart of Abell 3627. Then [cut scene] the proverbial Cosmic Blender switches on, ripping through the ESO 137-001's once elegant spiral arms, blasting its ‘guts' into intergalactic space.

The Universe can be pretty R-rated at times.

PHOTOS: Hubble's Sexiest Spiral Galaxies

As witnessed by the Hubble Space Telescope and NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, this observation of the violent outcome of a galactic encounter is beautifully captured. ESO 137-001 is seen, being ripped apart, as is careens through the heart of Abell 3627, a huge galaxy cluster in the southern constellation of Triangulum Australe (The Southern Triangle).

As the galaxy moves through the dense region inside Abell 3627, which is filled with superheated gases, the galaxy is experiencing a process known as 'ram pressure stripping.' This pressure is analogous to the pressure felt by an object moving through a fluid; as the object powers forward, the surrounding dense medium causes drag. On a galactic scale, cold galactic gas is ripped from the spiral galaxy, leaving ultraviolet and X-ray streams (blue glow) in the galaxy's wake.

These streams may represent the guts of the unfortunate galaxy, but they certainly aren't lifeless - the event has spawned an invigorated period of star formation inside these streams.

PHOTOS: Hubble's Beautiful Butterfly Nebulae

Astronomers are very interested in studying the effects of ram pressure stripping as the mechanism can have a dramatic effect on the future evolution of galaxies. As shown in graphic detail here by Hubble, vast quantities of gas has been pulled from the galaxy, hindering future star formation inside ESO 137-001.

This region of galactic brutality is located around 200 million light-years from the Milky Way and it's all happening in the heart of the Great Attractor, a region of space where the combined masses of the galaxies contained within create such an overwhelming gravitational force that all surrounding galaxies and galactic clusters are being pulled toward it. Our galaxy and its galactic cluster, the Local Group, are headed in that direction.

For more information on this galactic ‘bloodbath' and high-resolution versions, browse the awesome Hubble news release.

NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope observation with data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory of ESO 137-001's giant gas stream extending toward the bottom of the frame, only visible in the X-ray part of the spectrum.

Using data from the Hubble Space Telescope's famous Ultra-Deep Field (UDF) observation,

astronomers have been able to deduce at what age spiral galaxies acquire their spiral structure

. Since its launch in 1990, the veteran observatory has studied countless galaxies, but some of the most striking images are that of the majestic spirals that pervade the entire observable universe. In this celebration of spiral galaxies and Hubble's prowess at imaging them, we've collected some of our favorite galactic views from the space telescope's archives.

NEWS: When Did Galaxies Get Their Spirals?

In this majestic image, phenomenal detail in galaxy

NGC 2841

's spiraling dust lanes have been captured.

Spiral galaxy

NGC 5866

as seen nearly edge-on from Hubble's perspective. The dark galactic dust silhouettes the bright galactic core.

An

unnamed spiral galaxy

located deep within the Coma Cluster of galaxies, around 320 million light-years away in the northern constellation Coma Berenices, shows off some intricate detail in its arms.

The famous

Sombrero galaxy

(Messier 104) is an edge-on spiral galaxy -- the "rim" of the sombrero is thick lanes of dust obscuring the galaxy's starlight.

M81

is another spiral galaxy not too dissimilar to our Milky Way. Young, bluish stars track along the galaxy's majestic arms, while older, redder stars cluster in its bright core.

This unique view of

M106

is a combination of Hubble data and photographs taken by astrophotographer Robert Gendler.

The 'classic' spiral

Whirlpool Galaxy

gravitationally interacts with a neighboring galaxy, refining its very clear spiral arms.

To celebrate Hubble's 21st year in space, astronomers released this striking image of a pair of interacting galaxies called

Arp 273

. (Image rotated)

The 3 galaxies of

Arp 274

appear to be very close to one another, but astronomers believe that they are far apart and only overlapping from our perspective.

Galaxy

UGC 10214

is undergoing some violent gravitational disturbances after a suspected galactic collision. The creation of the stream of stars post-collision appear as a tail, giving the galaxy "The Tadpole" moniker.

To see full-resolution images and more detail on the galaxies showcased here, browse the mindblowing online Hubble album.