Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar may have given us the most awesome deep space images seen on a movie screen, but Hollywood has just been upstaged by the real thing.
New images released by NASA capture one of space’s biggest events: two galaxies, each boasting a black hole at their center, colliding with one another. The spectacular scene took place 134 million light-years away and was photographed by NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), a black hole-hunting high-energy X-ray telescope that orbits Earth.
In the picture, the black hole on the right is actively gorging on gas, while the other is either dormant or hidden under gas and dust.
While the hyper-detailed images are aesthetically awesome, they’re also incredibly informative for researchers. As these two galaxies smash into each other, they’ll boost scientists’ understanding of the way that merging galaxies can trigger black holes and begin the evolution of new galaxies. “When galaxies collide, gas is sloshed around and driven into their respective nuclei, fueling the growth of black holes and the formation of stars,” says Andrew Ptak of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “We want to understand the mechanisms that trigger the black holes to turn on and start consuming the gas.”