Galactic 'gem' sparkles in dazzling new Hubble image aided by citizen scientists

A galaxy merger can be seen in deep space. Several large cloud of gases surround a bright central area.
This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope observation has captured the galaxy CGCG 396-2, an unusual multi-armed galaxy merger which lies around 520 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Orion. (Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, W. Keel)

An unusual galaxy merger boasts multiple interwoven arms in a newly released Hubble Space Telescope image. 

This multiarmed galaxy, known as CGCG 396-2, lies about 520 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Orion. It represents a galaxy merger, which occurs when two or more galaxies collide. 

The galaxy was detected with Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys as part of a larger initiative called the Galaxy Zoo project, according to a statement from the European Space Agency (ESA). 

Related: Hubble telescope spies gorgeous galaxy merger (video, photo)

"This observation is a gem from the Galaxy Zoo project, a citizen science project in which hundreds of thousands of volunteers classified galaxies to help scientists solve a problem of astronomical proportions — how to sort through the vast amounts of data generated by robotic telescopes," ESA officials wrote in the statement. 

As a part of the project, volunteers vote on which objects are the most intriguing and warrant further investigation with the Hubble Space Telescope. The galaxy CGCG 396-2 was one such object, selected for its unusual multiarmed structure. Galaxy Zoo and other similar citizen science projects have led to more than 100 peer-reviewed scientific articles and numerous astronomical discoveries, according to the ESA statement. 

"By making a web interface and inviting citizen scientists to contribute to the challenge, the Galaxy Zoo team was able to crowdsource the analysis, and within six months a legion of 100,000 volunteer citizen astronomers had contributed more than 40 million galaxy classifications" ESA officials wrote. 

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Samantha Mathewson
Contributing Writer

Samantha Mathewson joined as an intern in the summer of 2016. She received a B.A. in Journalism and Environmental Science at the University of New Haven, in Connecticut. Previously, her work has been published in Nature World News. When not writing or reading about science, Samantha enjoys traveling to new places and taking photos! You can follow her on Twitter @Sam_Ashley13.