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Hubble telescope captures galaxies locked in 'a dangerous dance'

The two galaxies could spend hundreds of millions of years slowly smooshing together.

Together, these two colliding galaxies are known as Arp 91.
ESA/Hubble & NASA, J. Dalcanton Acknowledgement: J. Schmidt

You might think there's plenty of elbow room in space, but that doesn't stop galaxies from rubbing elbows sometimes. On Monday, the European Space Agency shared a knockout view from the Hubble Space Telescope of a galactic pair getting cozy.

Together, the galaxies are known as Arp 91 and they're located over 100 million light-years from Earth. Separately, the lower, rounder-looking galaxy is NGC 5953 and the upper one is NGC 5954. "In reality, both of these galaxies are spiral galaxies, but their shapes appear very different because they are orientated differently with respect to Earth," ESA said.

ESA described the galaxies' intertwining action as "a dangerous dance." NGC 5954 is being pulled toward NGC 5953. One of the galaxy's spiral arms looks like it's extending toward its partner. The slo-mo merger could lead to the formation of an elliptical galaxy, which tends to have a large population of older stars and a smoother overall appearance compared with a spiral.   

It will be a long time before the galaxies' celestial cha-cha is complete. "These immensely energetic and massive collisions, however, happen on timescales that dwarf a human lifetime -- they take place over hundreds of millions of years," ESA said.   

NASA and ESA jointly operate Hubble. The long-lived telescope has logged over three decades in space and survived a serious technical glitch earlier this year. The space agencies hope the telescope will continue delivering stunning views like this for years to come.