To commemorate the upcoming 21st anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope’s first day in space, NASA astronomers released this beautiful image of two interacting galaxies in the shape of a rose.
Together, the pair of dancing galaxies are called Arp 273. They lie in the constellation Andromeda, about 300 million light-years from Earth. Though connected by a thin bridge of stars, they’re tens of thousands of light-years from each other.
The larger galaxy, called UGC 1810, is about five times as massive as its smaller companion, UGC 1813. Astronomers think the smaller galaxy plunged straight through the larger: UGC 1810’s inner set of spiral arms is highly warped, a telltale sign of distortion by UGC 1813’s gravitational pull. Meanwhile, UGC 1813 shows an intense burst of star formation in its nucleus, possibly triggered by swan-diving through its neighbor.
The image was captured on Dec. 17, 2010 with three colored filters in Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3. Hubble’s 21st birthday is Sunday, Apr. 24.
“For 21 years, Hubble has profoundly changed our view of the universe, allowing us to see deep into the past while opening our eyes to the majesty and wonders around us,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in a press release. “I was privileged to pilot space shuttle Discovery as it deployed Hubble. After all this time, new Hubble images still inspire awe and are a testament to the extraordinary work of the many people behind the world’s most famous observatory.”