NASA’s Hubble Telescope has captured a stunning image of a galaxy twice the size of our own Milky Way.

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NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has captured a stunning new image of a galaxy more than twice the size of our own Milky Way.

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According to NASAa giant elliptical galaxy (dubbed NGC 474) is about 100 million light-years from Earth, toward the constellation Pisces. Its size extends almost 250,000 light-years, which is 2.5 times larger than our own Milky Way galaxy.

Last week, NASA released a rare close-up of NGC 474’s central region taken with Hubble’s “superbly sharp eye”.

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“Images like this show the complexity and activity of galaxies.” This was reported to USA TODAY by the senior scientist of the Hubble project, Dr. Jennifer Wiseman.

NGC 474 taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.

In addition to its enormous size, NGC 474 is unique in that it has a series of complex, layered shells of dust and gas surrounding its core. Exactly how the shells formed is still unknown, but astronomers believe they may have resulted from the galaxy’s absorption of one or more smaller galaxies over time.

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Thanks to the Hubble telescope, Wiseman explained, astronomers know that galaxies have often merged with their neighbors through mutual gravitational attraction throughout cosmic history. And the longer merger process, which can take billions of years, creates a much larger merged galaxy and often causes “star formation frenzy as the gas in the region is churned and compressed.”

While NGC 474 is an elliptical galaxy (and is among the 10% of elliptical galaxies with a shell structure), numerous types of modern galaxies are also products of previous mergers. Our spiral Milky Way, for example, survived the merger but ended up with a different structure.

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According to Wiseman, the Milky Way is on its way to another merger. Accurate Hubble observations show that the Milky Way will merge with Andromeda Galaxy (our closest large galactic neighbor) in a few billion years.

“Future observations with Hubble and other telescopes in space and on the ground will help us understand how galaxy dynamics and mergers create larger galaxies and drive the formation of stars within them and their planetary systems,” Wiseman said. “It will also help us understand the environment in our Milky Way that led to the formation of our own solar system.”

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