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First image of a galaxy torn apart

03 Mawrth 2007

A striking image showing one galaxy being ripped apart by a cluster of other galaxies has been obtained by an international team led by a Cardiff astronomer.

The team, led by Dr Luca Cortese of the School of Physics and Astronomy, used the Hubble Space Telescope to observe an oddly-shaped galaxy in the Abell 2667 cluster, some 3.2bn lightyears from Earth. They found it was being torn apart by enormous forces from hundreds of surrounding galaxies, dark matter and gas plasma as hot as 10-100 million degrees Celsius.

The galaxy — nicknamed the ‘Comet Galaxy’ by astronomers — is being slowly stripped of its gas and stars. The discovery shows how gas-rich galaxies where hundreds of stars are forming evolve over billions of years into gas-poor galaxies with no new stars.

Dr Cortese said: "By combining Hubble observations with various ground and space-based telescopes, we have been able to shed some light on the evolutionary history of galaxies. This new image shows an environment where galaxies are slowly sculpted by violent interactions with their surrounding cluster."

Dr Cortese led a team of scientists from France, Italy, Germany, Mexico and the USA. Their results have been published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.