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Galaxies snuggle up in Hubble 27th anniversary image

The Hubble Space Telescope birthday celebration kicks off with a gorgeous image of two spiral galaxies that like to buddy up.

Galaxies NGC 4302 and NGC 4298 are best buds.
NASA, ESA, and M. Mutchler (STScl)

Every year, NASA and the European Space Agency celebrate the Hubble Space Telescope's April 24 launch anniversary with a special image. The stunning winning shot for Hubble's 27th anniversary in 2017 depicts two spiral galaxies cozied up close to each other.

The galaxy showing its edge is NGC 4302, while the galaxy with the visible spiral is NGC 4298. The final image combines four shots captured by Hubble in January of this year. The blue patch visible in NGC 4298 is an area of active star formation.

The duo is located 55 million light-years from Earth, but the galaxies are only about 7,000 light-years apart from each other. "Given this very close arrangement, astronomers are intrigued by the galaxies' apparent lack of any significant gravitational interaction; only a faint bridge of neutral hydrogen gas -- not visible in this image -- appears to stretch between them," NASA and the ESA note.

Hubble hitched a ride into orbit with the Space Shuttle Discovery back in 1990 and continues to send back iconic images of the universe, including the famous "Pillars of Creation" and last year's anniversary image, a fresh look at the scenic Bubble Nebula.