Photo: Hubble Spies Galactic Penguin and Egg

This newly released picture postcard from Hubble Space Telescope, taken in both visible and infrared light, shows two galaxies interacting.  Credit: NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
This newly released picture postcard from Hubble Space Telescope, taken in both visible and infrared light, shows two galaxies interacting.
Credit: NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

The Hubble Space Telescope has spied a pair of giant galaxies that bear a striking resemblance to a penguin guarding its egg.

This cosmic zoological find—known as Arp 142—is in reality the blue spiral galaxy, NGC 2936, twisted by the gravitational pull of the smaller elliptical galaxy NGC 2937 below it.

Hubble has been able to capture exquisite details within the tortured “penguin” galaxy. Its bright core, representing the “eye” of this celestial bird in the above image, is filled with millions of stars huddled together. The red streak slashing across the penguin’s face just above its eye is the warped remains of what was once a spiral arm.

Meanwhile, the bird’s celestial body is composed of the pinwheeling spiral arms of former galaxies which now only show up as bright, feathery blue and red streaks stretching out for thousands of light years.

The galactic pair is 400 million light-years away from Earth in the southern constellation Hydra. They are in the midst of a slow motion collision—violently exchanging material while disrupting their original structures.

Look closely at the image and many tiny, elongated red and blue smudges in the background—which look like pesky flies—are in reality much more distant galaxies.

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Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.