The Milky Way and Andromeda galaxy are expected to spectacularly merge into one system approximately four billion years from now. But NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has found another galaxy barreling through space towards our system. The distant Messier 90 is a spiral galaxy in the Virgo Cluster – a group of more than 1,200 galaxies in the constellation Virgo. According to NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), Messier 90 is “remarkable” because it is one of the few galaxies flying towards us and not away.
ESA, which operates Hubble with NASA, said: “This Hubble image stars Messier 90, a beautiful spiral galaxy located roughly 60 million light-years from the Milky Way in the constellation of Virgo – the Virgin.
“The galaxy is part of the Virgo Cluster, a gathering of galaxies that is over 1,200 strong.
“The image combines infrared, ultraviolet and visible light gathered by the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 on the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.”
NASA estimates there are a trillion stars contained within the Messier 90 galaxy.
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The Hubble Camera operated on the space telescope between 1994 and 2009.
Because the Hubble camera was built from four sensors, it produced the black, staircase-like patches on its images.
Regardless, the instrument managed to photograph Messier 90 in its full glory.
ESA said: “Messier 90 is remarkable; it is one of the few galaxies seen to be travelling toward the Milky Way, not away from it.
“The galaxy’s light reveals this incoming motion in a phenomenon known as blueshift.”
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As the galaxy approaches the Milky Way, it compresses its emitted light towards the blue end of the visible spectrum.
On the visible light spectrum, shorter wavelengths are blue while longer wavelengths moved towards red.
Just like a squashed slinky, ESA said the galaxy’s blue light gives away Messier 90’s movement.
The movement is unusual because astronomers agree the universe is expanding, which means the distances between galaxies is growing.
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ESA said: “As our universe is expanding, almost all of the galaxies we see in the universe are moving away from us, and we therefore see their light more towards the red end of the spectrum, known as redshift. Messier 90, however, appears to be a rare exception.
“Astronomers think that the blueshift is caused by the cluster’s colossal mass accelerating its members to high velocities on bizarre and peculiar orbits, sending them whirling around on odds paths that take them both towards and away from us over time.
“While the cluster itself is moving away from us, some of its constituent galaxies, such as Messier 90, are moving faster than the cluster as a whole, making it so that, from Earth, we see the galaxy heading towards us.
“However, some are also moving in the opposite direction within the cluster, and thus seem to be streaking away from us at very high velocity.”