Hardly a week passes without the release of spectacular images and riveting news about distant galaxies and their importance to our understanding of the Universe’s history and development.  Here are a few recent examples that drew SpaceRip’s attention:

MeerKAT's Impressive Debut

When the first 16 dishes of South Africa’s MeerKat radio telescope array were commissioned, in July, they were trained on a small area of the Southern Hemisphere sky where only 70 galaxies had previously been observed.  Almost instantly, the number of known galaxies in that region grew to 1,300!

Astronomical radio sources appear as white dots in MeerKAT image spanning only the approximate width of the Moon. (Credit: SKA Africa)

By late next year, the array will quadruple to 64 receptors operating as a precursor to the extraordinarily ambitious SKA (Square Kilometer Array) radio telescope project.  “Based on the results being shown today, we are confident that after all 64 dishes are in place, MeerKAT will be the world’s leading telescope of its kind,” said SKA’s Chief Technologist, Professor Justin Jonas.

One of MeerKAT's 13.5-meter dishes (left) and two of the first images the array produced. (Credit: SKA Africa)

If all goes according to plan, MeerKAT will be integrated eventually into the SKA array of 3,000 dishes operating as a single huge radio telescope.  The dishes will be spread over one-square-kilometer sites in nine African nations and Australia by sometime in the 2020s.

Distant Galaxy Churns Out Myriad New Stars

In the Hubble Space Telescope image below, NGC 3125 is glimpsed in the process of forming new stars at an extremely energetic pace.  Called a “starburst galaxy,” it displays countless young blue stars in the early stages of their development.  The new stars are fueled by intensely hot gases that roil within the galaxy.

NGC 3125 is producing new stars at an extremely high rate and is brighter than one of the Magellanic Clouds. (Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA; Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt)

NGC 3125 was first spied by William Herschel, in 1835.  It lies about 50 million light years away in the constellation Antlia and is approximately 15,000 light years across.  What might be mistaken for bright but indistinct foreground stars are, in fact, several globular clusters rotating at the edge of the galaxy.

Irregular Galaxy Has Its Charms

We are accustomed to images of galaxies that are majestic in their beauty and regular in their forms.  Think of the sweeping arms of large spiral galaxies such as the Milky Way, or the near-circular or cigar shapes of elliptical galaxies.  However, about 25% of galaxies that have been observed are irregular in form.  NGC 2337 (below) is a striking example of an irregular galaxy.

NGC 2337 was first observed by Edouard Stephan in 1877. (Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA)

Located around 25 million light years from here in the Lynx constellation, NGC 2337 does not have the symmetrical shape of most galaxies, but it does present an opportunity to better understand galactic formation and disruption.  Astronomers believe that many such galaxies were once regular in form, but interaction with galactic neighbors distorted them into vast collections of stars that lack the distinct shapes that we find so appealing.  Interestingly, such interactions often lead to star formation – as evidenced by the presence of a large number of younger blue stars scattered throughout NGC 2337.

Bonus SpaceRip Video!