Galactic neighbours' deadly embrace

Persian astronomers in the 10th century first documented the Andromeda galaxy using nothing but the naked human eye. They called it the "little cloud" and since then our nearest galactic neighbour has been captured countless times by the most advanced telescopes.

But nothing quite matches this picture released by the European Space Agency. It is a composite image made from radiation at different ends of the electromagnetic spectrum and gathered almost simultaneously by two observatories in space.

The infrared radiation, shown in orange, was captured by the Herschel space telescope and emanates from the dust clouds that form concentric circles within the galaxy where new stars are forming. The blue points of light are x-rays detected by the XMM-Newton observatory, typically from stars at the end of their life.

Here, stars are being born as gravity draws cosmic dust into a dense fireball that triggers nuclear fusion and the release of light - the moment when a star begins to shine. The image shows rings of star-forming dust. Blue points of light come from the shockwaves of exploded stars or stars that have become locked together in a gravitational fight to the death. In these deadly embraces, one star has already died and is pulling gas from its still-living companion.


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