The mass of dust and bright swirls of stars in this image are the distant galaxy merger IC 2431. It lies 681 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Cancer.
The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has captured a triple galaxy merger in progress. It also captured a tumultuous mixture of star formation. It captured tidal distortions caused by the gravitational interactions of this galactic trio.
A thick cloud of dust obscures the centre of this image. But light from a background galaxy is piercing its outer extremities.
This image is from a series of Hubble observations. It has investigated weird and wonderful galaxies found by the Galaxy Zoo citizen science project.
Astronomers have used Hubble’s powerful Advanced Camera for Surveys. They have taken a closer look at some of the more unusual galaxies. Volunteers have identified those galaxies.
The original Galaxy Zoo project was the largest galaxy census ever carried out. It relied on crowdsourcing time from more than 100,000 volunteers to classify 900,000 unexamined galaxies.
The project achieved what would have been years of work for a professional astronomer in only 175 days. It has also led to a steady stream of similar astronomical citizen science projects. Later Galaxy Zoo projects have included the largest ever studies of galaxy mergers and tidal dwarf galaxies. It has also included discovery of entirely new types of compact star-forming galaxies.