NASA’S Hubble Telescope Looks Into a Cosmic Kaleidoscope of Colliding Galaxy Clusters

By  //  March 30, 2016

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located about 4.3 billion light-years from Earth

MACS J0416 is located about 4.3 billion light-years from Earth, in the constellation of Eridanus. This image of the cluster combines data from three different telescopes: the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope (showing the galaxies and stars), the NASA Chandra X-ray Observatory (diffuse emission in blue), and the NRAO Jansky Very Large Array (diffuse emission in pink). Each telescope shows a different element of the cluster, allowing astronomers to study MACS J0416 in detail. (NASA.gov image)

MACS J0416 is located about 4.3 billion light-years from Earth, in the constellation of Eridanus. This image of the cluster combines data from three different telescopes: the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope (showing the galaxies and stars), the NASA Chandra X-ray Observatory (diffuse emission in blue), and the NRAO Jansky Very Large Array (diffuse emission in pink).  (NASA.gov image)

At first glance, a cosmic kaleidoscope of purple, blue and pink offers a strikingly beautiful — and serene — snapshot of the cosmos, however, this multi-colored haze actually marks the site of two colliding galaxy clusters, forming a single object known as MACS J0416.1-2403 (or MACS J0416 for short).

MACS J0416 is located about 4.3 billion light-years from Earth, in the constellation of Eridanus.

As with all galaxy clusters, MACS J0416 contains a significant amount of dark matter, which leaves a detectable imprint in visible light by distorting the images of background galaxies.

This dark matter appears to align well with the blue-hued hot gas, suggesting that the two clusters have not yet collided; if the clusters had already smashed into one another, the dark matter and gas would have separated.

MACS J0416 also contains other features — such as a compact core of hot gas — that would likely have been disrupted had a collision already occurred.

Together with five other galaxy clusters, MACS J0416 is playing a leading role in the Hubble Frontier Fields program, for which this data was obtained.

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Owing to its huge mass, the cluster is in fact bending the light of background objects, acting as a magnifying lens. Astronomers can use this phenomenon to find galaxies that existed only hundreds of million years after the big bang.

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