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Stunning Hubble Space Telescope image shows 'galactic wings' from ongoing collision

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope photographed the VV689 system, which consists of two massive merging galaxies, giving the system a symmetrical "wing" appearance.
The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope photographed the VV689 system, which consists of two massive merging galaxies, giving the system a symmetrical "wing" appearance. (Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, W. Keel/Acknowledgement: J. Schmidt)

A beautiful new image from the Hubble Space Telescope captures a pair of "fluttering wings" produced by an ongoing collision between two distant galaxies.

The galactic wings are part of the VV689 system, nicknamed the Angel Wing, which can be found in the night sky in the constellation Leo, according to a statement (opens in new tab) by the European Space Agency (ESA). The distinct wings-like look is a product of a cataclysmic encounter between two galaxies that have been in the process of merging for billions of years.

"Unlike chance alignments of galaxies which only appear to overlap as seen from our vantage point on Earth, the two galaxies in VV689 are in the midst of a collision," officials said in the ESA statement. "The galactic interaction has left the VV689 system almost completely symmetrical, giving the impression of a vast set of galactic wings." 

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

The image was taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope as part of a citizen science project called the Galaxy Zoo — a crowdsourced astronomy initiative that involves the work of hundreds of thousands of volunteers, who help astronomers sort through data from robotic telescopes and classify galaxies. 

As part of the project, citizen scientists discovered a number of weird and wonderful galaxy types — some of which had not previously been studied. Another similar project, called the Radio Galaxy Zoo, uses the same crowdsourcing approach to identify supermassive black holes in distant galaxies, according to the statement. 

Interesting objects discovered through both citizen scientist projects are chosen for further observation using Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS). These targets — ranging from ring-shaped galaxies to unusual spirals and galactic mergers — are selected via public vote. VV698 was one of the objects selected by citizen scientists for detailed follow-up observations using Hubble's ACS. ESA shared the photo of the galactic merger on April 18. 

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Samantha Mathewson joined Space.com 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.