A mesmerizing photograph of three galaxies was shared by NASA on Friday. The image was captured by the Hubble Telescope, a joint effort by NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA). The group of three galaxies is collectively known as NGC 7764A.

NASA shared the Hubble image with a post, “Galactic siblings fight, too. This #HubbleFriday view shows a triplet of galaxies, called Arp 195, caught in a gravitational tug-of-war game. Ask any astronomer, and they’ll tell you that observation time with Hubble is extremely valuable.” It was accompanied by an image of the three galaxies intertwined like an axe.

Hubble telescope images

The Hubble Space Telescope has been capturing iconic images since its launch in 1990.

The Hubble and Three Galaxies

The first galaxy is visible near the bottom right-side of the photo and is described as “bowling-ball-shaped” by the ESA. Meanwhile, close to the center is the second galaxy, with long tails stretching out from the center, almost like a luminescent jellyfish. Near the top-right hand corner is the third galaxy with an arresting orange hue.

“The long trails of stars and gas extending from them give the impression that they have both just been struck at great speed, thrown into disarray by the bowling-ball-shaped galaxy to the lower left of the image,” the ESA said. “It is also unclear whether the galaxy to the lower left is interacting with the other two, although they are so relatively close in space that it seems possible that they are.”

The agency clarified that interacting does not mean that they have collided or merged with one another. Also, “In reality, interactions between galaxies happen over very long time periods, and galaxies rarely collide head-on with one another.” The European Space Agency even compared the galaxy on the top right to the starship called USS Enterprise from Star Trek.

NASA shared in a post that the NGC 7764A lies about 425 million light-years from Earth, in the constellation Phoenix. Individually the three galaxies are referred to as NGC 7764A1, NGC 7764A2, and NGC 7764A3. They also mentioned that galaxies are named thus as astronomical catalogs were prepared over 100 years ago, which can lead to some amount of confusion. Furthermore, they admitted that many astronomical objects have multiple or similar sounding names, as they were named before standardized scientific terminology was implemented with the help of modern technology.

The Hubble Telescope

The Hubble Space Telescope has been operational since 1990, when it was launched into low-Earth orbit. It is extremely popular as it is used for research and PR work, ever since it was deployed by the space shuttle Discovery. It was launched by NASA, from the John F Kennedy Space Center in Florida, with contributions from the European Space Agency.

It even has its own Twitter account, with over seven million followers, which provides netizens with regular updates about its findings. It is named after the American astronomer Edwin Powell Hubble, who was instrumental in establishing the fields of extragalactic astronomy and observational cosmology. Taking note of the interest Hubble has generated in astronomy, NASA live streams the telescope’s view whenever it is fixed on a target.

The Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), a research laboratory of NASA, controls its trajectory while its targets are selected and data is processed by the Space Telescope Science Institute (STSci). The telescope is predicted to last until 2030-2040.

NASA plans to employ the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), as a successor to the Hubble. It was launched on December 25, 2021, and is named after James Edwin Webb, who was a key figure in the Apollo program. Thousands of engineers, scientists, and technicians across fifteen countries have contributed towards building and operating the JWST.