These star-forming spirals look like galactic UFOs

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The Hubble Space Telescope has captured what appears to be a galactic flying saucer floating in space.

The otherworldly image of IC 564 is part of a pair of bizarre galactic balls called Arp 303, located about 275 million light-years away from us. (Arp refers to the Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies, originally cataloged at 338 members by Halton Arp in 1966.)

The Arp members were originally chosen for their unusual galactic structure, which is easily seen with both IC 564 and its companion, IC 563 (bottom right in the image showing the two galaxies.)

Related: The best Hubble Space Telescope images ever!

The Hubble Space Telescope imaged two spiral galaxies, collectively known as Arp 303. The pair is individually called IC 563 (lower right) and IC 564 (upper left). (Image credit: NASA, ESA, K. Larson (STScI) and J. Dalcanton (University of Washington); Image processing: G. Kober (NASA Goddard/Catholic University of America))

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Hubble officials are combing through the data catalog to help with upcoming James Webb Space Telescope observations, NASA said in a May 27 statement. statement (opens in a new tab). Of particular note are the “clustered” star birth regions visible in infrared light, which can give clues to overall galactic formation.

This latest image contains information from two separate Hubble observations. The former examined infrared light using the telescope’s wide-field camera, while the latter was part of a survey of “bright and interesting galaxies” using Hubble’s advanced camera for investigations, NASA said.

While NASA hasn’t directly stated how this imagery will help Webb, it’s worth noting the new telescope’s efforts to understand how galaxies formed and evolved, particularly in the early universe.

Emerging areas of galaxy research included how galaxies proliferated into the wide variety visible today, the relationship between supermassive black holes and galaxies, and galactic mergers and collisions, according to a NASA webpage (opens in a new tab) on the next Webb searches.

Some of the Webbs Cycle 1 studies (opens in a new tab) for Galaxies will look at early galaxy formation, “low metallicity” galaxies (rich in hydrogen and helium) and galaxy clusters to help him in his long-term quest to understand galactic evolution.

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