Hubble telescope spies lopsided spiral galaxy deformed by gravity

The NGC 2276 galaxy, recently imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope, had previously made it to the Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies. (Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, P. Sell)

The Hubble Space Telescope has captured a stunning new image of a distant spiral galaxy deformed by gravitational tug of its neighbor. 

The spiral galaxy, called NGC 2276, is located in the constellation Cepheus some 120 million light-years away from Earth's sun. In a wide-field image from Hubble, it can be seen together with its smaller neighbor NGC 2300. The gravitational pull of the neighbor galaxy has twisted the spiral structure of NGC 2276 into a lopsided shape, earning it a spot in the The Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies, a catalog of the weirdest stellar conglomerates originally published in 1966.

As the neighboring NGC 2300 exerts a gravitational force on one side of NGC 2276, the outermost parts of the larger galaxy's spiral arms stretch out further from its center, giving NGC 2276 its asymmetric look. 

 Related: What is a spiral galaxy? 

Spiral arms emanate like the legs of a spider from the center of so-called spiral galaxies (hence their name) to  form bright streams where the density of stars is higher than in the rest of the galaxy. The sweeping arms are the distinguishing feature of spiral galaxies, which can have a rather complicated structure featuring a central bulge, a flat disk with spiral arms where most stars are concentrated, and a less dense stellar halo surrounding the disk. Our galaxy, the Milky Way, as well as its neighbor Andromeda, are both spiral galaxies.

In addition to the gravitational interaction with NGC 2300, the appearance of NGC 2276 is also affected by extremely hot gas that typically pervades galaxy clusters. 

A wide-field view of the Hubble Space Telescope shows the NGC 2276 galaxy together with its smaller neighbor NGC 2300, which exerts its gravitational force on one side of NGC 2276 and causes its asymmetric shape.  (Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, P. Sell)

According to a European Space Agency (ESA) image description, this superheated gas triggered a burst of star formation in NGC 2276, which can be seen on the left side of the close-up image as a bright area of blue-tinged light. NGC 2276's recent burst of star formation is also related to the appearance of more exotic inhabitants — black holes and neutron stars in binary systems, ESA said in the statement.

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Tereza Pultarova
Live Science Contributor
Tereza is a London-based science and technology journalist, video producer and health blogger. Originally from Prague, the Czech Republic, she spent the first seven years of her career working as a reporter, script-writer and presenter for various TV programmes of the Czech national TV station. She later took a career break to pursue further education and added a Master in Science from the International Space University, France, to her Bachelor's degree in Journalism from Prague's Charles University. She is passionate about nutrition, meditation and psychology, and sustainability.