The Hubble Space Telescope captures a jellyfish galaxy

This week’s image from the Hubble Space Telescope shows a special and delightful cosmic object: a galaxy of jellyfish. These galaxies are named for their larger main body with tendrils that float behind them like the sea creatures.

This particular jellyfish galaxy is called JO201 and is located in the constellation Cetacean. In keeping with the marine theme, Cetus is a constellation named after a Greek mythological sea monster that sometimes had the body of a whale or snake along with a boar’s head. In the image, you can see the main body of the galaxy in the center, with the trailing tendrils spreading down toward the bottom of the frame.

In this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image, a jellyfish galaxy hangs in inky darkness with trailing tentacles of stars. ESA/Hubble & NASA, M. Gullieuszik

Jellyfish galaxies form due to an effect called ram pressure stripping, where the gravity of other nearby objects, such as galaxies or galaxy clusters, act like a headwind, moving dust and gas out of the galaxy and stripping it in some regions. This process can slow star formation in the galaxy due to insufficient dust or gas to form new stars, and can even lead to the death of the affected galaxy.

This image was taken with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 instrument, which was scanned in both optical and ultraviolet wavelengths to pick out all the important features of the galaxy, its dust and gas, and tendrils. It was taken as part of the study of jellyfish galaxies and the formation of stars in them.

“This particular observation comes from a study of the size, mass and age of the clumps of star formation in the tendrils of jellyfish galaxies,” Hubble scientists write. “Astronomers hope this will provide a breakthrough in understanding the link between ram pressure stripping – the process that creates the tendrils of jellyfish galaxies – and star formation.”

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