These aren’t just rainbow splats. What you see below are 37 galactic collisions observed through a radio telescope by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. More specifically, you’re looking at carbon monoxide gases mixing together. Blue is gas that’s moving toward earth. Red is gas that’s moving away.
To the casual observer, it’s just a psychedelic array of color. But what the knowing researchers involved with the project saw was nothing short a scientific revelation.
As New Scientist explains, traditional computer models have suggested that when two galaxies crash together, they produce one of those blobby elliptical galaxies. Given that most galaxies will collide some time during their lifetime, that means most galaxies should be elliptical galaxies. But where things get odd is that most of the galaxies in our universe are really spiraling disc galaxies–disc galaxies that must be coming from somewhere.
And in fact, what researchers discovered was that 30 of the 37 colliding galaxies pictured here are disc galaxies in the making! Want to know how they can tell? The disc galaxies have a yellow line down the middle. In motion, that line probably spins like a clock.
In other words, scientists found that the carbon monoxide gases were spiraling, producing what would become disc galaxies. Observation and visualization taught us something that the computer models just didn’t see.