Hubble spots lopsided ‘fried egg’ galaxy caught in a tug of war

The life of a spiral galaxy isn’t always over-easy.

Spiral galaxies are scenic celestial wonders. They have a central bulge of older stars and curved arms that extend from that center. Our own Milky Way is a spiral. The Hubble Space Telescope took a look at spiral galaxy NGC 2276 and discovered it wasn’t quite a picture of perfection.

NGC 2276 has a distinctly lopsided look. NASA compared spiral galaxies to fried eggs — with the bulge as the yoke and the surrounding disc of stars as the white — and said this one looks like it’s sliding off the frying pan.

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“In reality, a neighboring galaxy to the right of NGC 2276 (NGC 2300, not seen here) is gravitationally tugging on its disk of blue stars, pulling the stars on one side of the galaxy outward to distort the galaxy’s normal fried-egg appearance,” said NASA in a statement on Thursday.

Hubble is a joint project from NASA and the European Space Agency. The long-lived telescope celebrated its 31st anniversary this year as NASA prepares to launch its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, later this year.

NASA unveils 30 dazzling new Hubble space images for an epic anniversary
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Planetary nebula NGC 40
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The galactic tug of war in the Hubble image is taking place 120 million light-years away in the constellation Cepheus (named for a king from Greek mythology).

NASA wasn’t done with the food metaphors: “Galaxies are not solid objects but tenuous agglomerations of tens of billions of stars. When two galaxies come close to each other they feel each other’s gravity and are distorted, like pulling on cotton candy.”

If you want to see a more balanced example of a spiral galaxy, check out Hubble’s view of NGC 2903. They may have different shapes, but they’re both beautiful.

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