A new series of photos and artists' conceptions reveal in breathtaking detail the vicious world of galactic evolution, where spiral galaxies attract, shred, and assimilate nearby dwarf galaxies. Check out more images of our galaxy-eat-galaxy cosmos.
Although we already knew that spiral galaxies in the immediate vicinity of the Milky Way were taking part in this intergalactic feeding frenzy, these new images by the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy are the first to demonstrate these same processes occur much further away. That suggests this is not an isolated process but rather a basic feature of galactic evolution, and that also suggests the Milky Way itself could be built on a foundation of digested dwarf galaxies.
Lead astronomer David Martínez-Delgado explains the importance of the find:
"This process could be also very important in elliptical galaxies. But we are only studying nearby spiral galaxies with a mass similar to our galaxy in the local universe ... [so] that we can understand the formation of the Milky Way."
All the photos were taken using privately owned telescopes and commercially available cameras, but that doesn't mean the results were commonplace. The artist's conception up top (you can see the uncropped version below) shows how the smaller galaxy is ultimately stretched into just a ribbon of stars in the final phase of the assimilation process. You can see galaxies at various other phases of distortion and incorporation in the galaxy below, and be sure to check out National Geographic for more pictures and more information on these findings.