'Space Penguin' PHOTO: Hubble Captures Arp 142 Galactic Collision In The Constellation Hydra

06/21/2013 04:29 pm ET | Updated Jul 25, 2013

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away... Space Penguin!

Alright, it's not exactly "Star Wars." But this image, captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, does show a dramatic clash of galaxies. Scientists believe that the head of the bird (in the upper portion of the photograph) is the result of the collision between the spiral galaxy NGC 2936 and the elliptical galaxy NGC 2937 (lower left).

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space penguin

Together, the galactic pair are known as Arp 142, which is located about 326 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Hydra.

The Guardian reported that the galaxies look like a "penguin guarding its egg," while the Hubble Heritage Team website described the sight as a "celestial hummingbird."

No matter what kind of bird you see, what's causing the peculiar shape is actually the gravitational tug of the elliptical galaxy on the flat disk of the spiral. As Hubble Heritage explains:

Once part of a flat, spiral disk, the orbits of the galaxy's stars have become scrambled due to gravitational tidal interactions with the other galaxy. This warps the galaxy's orderly spiral, and interstellar gas is strewn out into giant tails like stretched taffy.

According to Hubblecast, the galaxy collision occurring in Arp 142 throws clouds of gas and dust together at breakneck speeds, triggering the formation of new stars.

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