As families tuck into their couches to watch Charlie Brown help his friend Linus await the Great Pumpkin this Halloween, they may be surprised to hear that NASA has already discovered a "greater pumpkin."
Images from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope show what looks remarkably like a giant jack-o'-lantern in the sky. The "pumpkin" is actually a picture of the early stages of a collision between two galaxies.
The pumpkin's face consists of two aging red stars, which form the eyes and gives the region an orange-ish glow, and a crooked, blue smile made up of newborn star clusters. With a scattering of blue stars in the foreground, it looks as though the pumpkin dressed up in glitter for Halloween.
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This "greater pumpkin" is, of course, much larger than Charlie Brown's pumpkin. The entire view stretches nearly 109,000 light-years across, which is about the diameter of our Milky Way galaxy, according to NASA.
Although the region currently looks to our eyes like a Halloween pumpkin, the shape will soon dissipate as the pair of colliding galaxies become more intertwined. NASA predicts this pair, which is 120 million light-years away in the constellation Canis Major, might become a giant spiral galaxy. The "smile" may be the beginning of the process to rebuild that spiral, researchers said in a NASA image description. The arm of the smile embraces both galaxies and was most likely formed when interstellar gas was compressed as the galaxies started to merge.
Most of the time, when two galaxies collide, they lose their typical flattened disk shape and the stars within each galaxy get scrambled into a new football-shaped space, NASA said. Eventually, they form an elliptical galaxy.
If the "greater pumpkin" becomes a giant spiral galaxy, it will be a rare feat. There are only a handful of other examples in the universe, including Rubin's Galaxy, astronomers said in NASA's statement.
The mystery and intrigue surrounding what type of galaxy these two colliding galaxies will turn out to be fits its reputation as "the greater pumpkin." In "It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown," poor Linus never did catch a glimpse of the mysterious great pumpkin he was so excited to see.
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