Hubble Sees Galaxy on Verge of Destruction
Under the gravitational grasp of a large gang of galaxies, the small bluish galaxy NGC 1427A is plunging headlong into the Fornax cluster. The apparently small, perfect spiral galaxy in the upper left is in the distant background.
Credit: NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Like an unsuspecting kid on a playground, a distant galaxy is walking into certain disaster as it approaches a gang of other galaxies.

Already the interaction is forcing abundant star formation in the small galaxy, named NGC 1427A. Ultimately, it will be ripped apart, scientists said Thursday.

An image of the scene was taken with the Hubble Space Telescope. The scene is 62 million light-years away.

The Fornax galaxy contains hundreds of galaxies. Gas between galaxies is compressed as NGC 1427A rushes toward crowd at about 400 miles per second (600 kilometers per second). The compression forces star formation, as evidenced by numerous hot, blue stars that have been formed very recently, astronomers said.

Within the next billion years, NGC 1427A will spill its stars and remaining gas into intergalactic space within the Fornax cluster.

The disruption of objects like NGC 1427A, and even larger galaxies like our own Milky Way, is an integral part of the formation and evolution of galaxy clusters. Such events are believed to have been very common during the early evolution of the universe, but the rate of galaxy destruction is tapering off at the present time.

Thus the impending destruction of NGC 1427A provides a glimpse of an early and much more chaotic time in our universe.