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Hubble Space Telescope images twisted galaxy shaped by a big neighbor

Hubble Space Telescope imagery of the "twisted spiral" galaxy NGC 3718.
Hubble Space Telescope imagery of the "twisted spiral" galaxy NGC 3718. (Image credit: NASA, ESA, L. Ho (Peking University), and DSS; Image Processing: Gladys Kober (NASA/Catholic University of America))

This fresh Hubble Space Telescope image looks like a gassy disaster unfolding deep in space.

The image shows the galaxy NGC 3718, which NASA officials say is a "highly disturbed spiral," meaning its formation was disrupted. As the galaxy gets into the gravitational well from the neighboring galaxy NGC 3729, that galactic interaction pulls NGC 3718 into an S-shaped warp. The galaxies are separated by 150,000 light-years, with NGC 3729 not shown in this view from the Hubble Space Telescope.

"Hubble's view of this portion of NGC 3718 shows the sinuous, twisting dust lane in detail as it sweeps by the core of the galaxy and curves into the surrounding gas," NASA officials said in a May 24 statement (opens in new tab). "Both the galaxy's gas and dust lane are similarly distorted into this unique configuration." 

Related: The best Hubble Space Telescope images of all time!

NGC 3718 is also called Arp 214, recognizing its placement in the 1966 Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies, constructed by Halton Arp to look at galaxies with unusual structures.

The Hubble telescope was focusing on the nucleus of the galaxy, which is hard to see because of the amount of dust in the way. Infrared light allowed Hubble to peer through "as part of a study of the central regions of disk-shaped galaxies, with prominent bulges of stars in multiple environments," NASA officials said.

The goals of the study included learning how supermassive black hole masses might be related to galactic "bulges" about the center, as well as how star formation happens throughout a galaxy.

A Hubble Space Telescope image of galaxy NGC 3718 (inset) compared with a Sloan Digital Sky Survey image of the region surrounding it (left). (Image credit: NASA, ESA, L. Ho (Peking University), and DSS; Image Processing: Gladys Kober (NASA/Catholic University of America))

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope aims to extend Hubble's generation of work by peering at galaxies close to the start of the universe. Webb is expected to start work this summer.

Some of Webb's research will focus on matters such as galactic variety, mergers and collisions, as well as more details on galaxies' relationships with supermassive black holes, according to NASA (opens in new tab).

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she also tackles topics like diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, three space shuttle missions in Florida, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Her latest book, Leadership Moments from NASA, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.