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NGC 2207 and IC 2163: Galactic Get-Together has Impressive Light Display

  • NGC 2207 and IC 2163 are two spiral galaxies in the process of merging.

  • This pair contains a large collection of super bright X-ray objects called "ultraluminous X-ray sources" (ULXs).

  • Astronomers have found evidence for three supernova explosions within this pair in the past 15 years.

  • A new composite image of the system contains X-rays from Chandra (pink) along with optical and infrared data.

At this time of year, there are lots of gatherings often decorated with festive lights. When galaxies get together, there is the chance of a spectacular light show as is the case with NGC 2207 and IC 2163

Located about 130 million light years from Earth, in the constellation of Canis Major, this pair of spiral galaxies has been caught in a grazing encounter. NGC 2207 and IC 2163 have hosted three supernova explosions in the past 15 years and have produced one of the most bountiful collections of super bright X-ray lights known. These special objects - known as "ultraluminous X-ray sources" (ULXs) - have been found using data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory.

As in our Milky Way galaxy, NGC 2207 and IC 2163 are sprinkled with many star systems known as X-ray binaries, which consist of a star in a tight orbit around either a neutron star or a "stellar-mass" black hole. The strong gravity of the neutron star or black hole pulls matter from the companion star. As this matter falls toward the neutron star or black hole, it is heated to millions of degrees and generates X-rays.

ULXs have far brighter X-rays than most "normal" X-ray binaries. The true nature of ULXs is still debated, but they are likely a peculiar type of X-ray binary. The black holes in some ULXs may be heavier than stellar mass black holes and could represent a hypothesized, but as yet unconfirmed, intermediate-mass category of black holes.

This composite image of NGC 2207 and IC 2163 contains Chandra data in pink, optical light data from the Hubble Space Telescope in red, green, and blue (appearing as blue, white, orange, and brown), and infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope in red.

The new Chandra image contains about five times more observing time than previous efforts to study ULXs in this galaxy pair. Scientists now tally a total of 28 ULXs between NGC 2207 and IC 2163. Twelve of these vary over a span of several years, including seven that were not detected before because they were in a "quiet" phase during earlier observations.

The scientists involved in studying this system note that there is a strong correlation between the number of X-ray sources in different regions of the galaxies and the rate at which stars are forming in these regions. The composite image shows this correlation through X-ray sources concentrated in the spiral arms of the galaxies, where large amounts of stars are known to be forming. This correlation also suggests that the companion star in the binary systems is young and massive.

Colliding galaxies like this pair are well known to contain intense star formation. Shock waves - like the sonic booms from supersonic aircraft - form during the collision, leading to the collapse of clouds of gas and the formation of star clusters. In fact, researchers estimate that the stars associated with the ULXs are very young and may only be about 10 million years old. In contrast, our Sun is about halfway through its 10-billion-year lifetime. Moreover, analysis shows that stars of various masses are forming in this galaxy pair at a rate equivalent to form 24 stars the mass of our sun per year. In comparison, a galaxy like our Milky Way is expected to spawn new stars at a rate equivalent to only about one to three new suns every year.

A paper describing these results has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal and is available online. The authors of the paper are Stefano Mineo of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, MA; Saul Rappaport from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, MA; Alan Levine from MIT; David Pooley from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, TX; Benjamin Steinhorn from Harvard Medical School in Boston, MA, and Jeroen Homan from MIT.

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Chandra program for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, controls Chandra's science and flight operations.

 

Fast Facts for NGC 2207 and IC 2163:
Credit  X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/S.Mineo et al, Optical: NASA/STScI, Infrared: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Release Date  December 11, 2014
Scale  Image is 5 arcmin across (about 180,000 light years)
Category  Normal Galaxies & Starburst Galaxies
Coordinates (J2000)  RA 06h 16m 22.10s | Dec -21 22' 21.80"
Constellation  Canis Major
Observation Date  4 pointings between Jul 2010 and Aug 2013
Observation Time  17 hours 20 min
Obs. ID  11228, 14799, 14914, 14915
Instrument  ACIS
References Mineo, S. et al, 2014, ApJ, 797, 91; arXiv:1410.2472
Color Code  X-ray (Pink), Optical (Red, Green, Blue), Infrared (Red)
IR
Optical
X-ray
Distance Estimate  About 130 million light years
distance arrow
Visitor Comments (10)

Cool picture.

Posted by Sunby on Friday, 08.21.15 @ 21:04pm


Thanks this are splendid pictures from your powered observatories.

Posted by ispas on Wednesday, 03.4.15 @ 16:28pm


Breathtaking image Continuing with the observation, I am really curious whether or not in our lifetime we will be able to see the two eyes meet, or passing thru exchanging stars.

Posted by Jeng Lee on Thursday, 01.8.15 @ 17:39pm


It simply has to be seen to be believed. Thank you for this information about the richest and brightest part of the universe.

Posted by Laerte Alencastro Schmitt on Saturday, 12.27.14 @ 15:34pm


With the collision, shockwaves, and supernovas happening, how does it all affect any planets in the area? Does it change their rotation, orbit, seasons temperature, atmosphere etc.?

Posted by Barbara on Wednesday, 12.24.14 @ 08:25am


Who gone stop it?

Posted by Sommer Bernard on Monday, 12.22.14 @ 09:24am


Would the counter rotation of the two galaxies have any effect on the chance of the two merging into one super massive galaxy?

Posted by Ian S on Saturday, 12.20.14 @ 10:16am


Is there a link to the optical image of the NGC 2207 IC 2163 collision?

Posted by Carl Amundson on Thursday, 12.18.14 @ 10:21am


Thank you for the picture and all the information. I am 63 years old and ever since a child I been fascinated by the universe, but for some reason with this vision I can't stop thinking of the millions of life forms wishing, hoping, wondering if anyone will come to their aid. Help. I know that we can't, but I wish that we are able to save our human, animal and plant life before we find ourselves in the same predicament they do. The view in every kind of waves are great but I wish there was a way we were able to help. Thanks again and great job.

Posted by Rudy Coronado on Wednesday, 12.17.14 @ 17:52pm


Amazing. Thank you for the information.

Posted by rick moll on Friday, 12.12.14 @ 20:13pm


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