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Galaxies unite to create ‘beads on a string’ phenomenon

Two galaxies have intertwined to create a bright string of stars, stretching as far as the length of our Milky Way galaxy. Astronomers claim the stars appear as gems shining bright on a necklace, a sight that was initially thought of as an illusion.  Observations taken the Nordic Optical Telescope confirmed that that, for the first time, scientist have found merging elliptical galaxies creating the effect.

“We’ve long known that the ‘beads on a string’ phenomenon is seen in the arms of spiral galaxies and in tidal bridges between interacting galaxies. However, this particular supercluster arrangement has never been seen before in giant merging elliptical galaxies,” said Grant Tremblay of the European Southern Observatory.

“We were surprised to find this stunning morphology, which must be very short-lived,” said Tremblay, in a news release of the Space Telescope Science Institute.

The observations were analyzed by scientists from Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and have been published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters. Images show 19 blue star clusters, all strung together like pearls and distanced 3,000 light years from one another, a sight which Tremblay perceives as “two monsters playing tug-of-war with a necklace.” However, the stars will no longer form a pattern in about 10 million years, when the surrounding groups of galaxies change direction.

“To find such an event in early type galaxies where star formation is rare is an incredibly fortunate find. Research into star formation in galaxies helps address many fundamental questions about the universe, and this rare star formation event will help propel this field of knowledge,” added Kevin Cooke, a graduate student in the astrophysical sciences and technology program at RIT.

The project was funded by the Hubble Space Telescope in a hunt to analyze 23 larger galaxy clusters. Scientists were originally looking to study the cluster’s blue arcs, and were surprised to find two galaxies merging.