MUTUALLY ASSURED DESTRUCTION
In the constellation of Serpens Caput (Serpent’s Head), this tightly-packed group of galaxies is slowly tearing itself apart.
These beautiful scattered jewels are collectively known as Seyfert’s Sextet, but although the name implies “six,” only four of the visible galaxies are locked in the dance of death. The still-intact spiral galaxy near the middle of the image is about five times more distant than the main group, and the sixth member is actually a tidal tail resulting from gravitational interactions.
The gravitational forces that are warping and blurring these galaxies may someday pull them together into one single galaxy, but such cosmic changes take time. The gravitational interactions we see here happened over billions of years, and the dance is likely to last billions more.
Image: NASA/ESA, J. English (U. Manitoba), S. Hunsberger, S. Zonak, J. Charlton, S. Gallagher (PSU), and L. Frattare (STScI)