Galaxy Collisions: Ring & Elliptical Galaxies

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  • 0:02 The Chances Galaxies…
  • 1:28 What is a Ring Galaxy?
  • 2:54 The End Result of…
  • 3:47 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson will discuss the collisions between galaxies and what happens to the stars within them. It will also cover what a ring galaxy is and how it forms, as well as where elliptical galaxies are most common.

The Chances Galaxies Will Collide

A galaxy is a large but isolated collection of stars, interstellar gas and dust, star clusters, and nebulae that orbit around a common center of mass.

While it is an isolated collection of stars, it's not completely isolated from other galaxies. Actually, two galaxies traveling through space are more likely to collide than the stars within each galaxy.

Let's try and understand why. A galaxy is like a long tourist bus carrying passengers (stars) through space. Let's say that this particular bus only has a couple of passengers on board. One is sitting somewhere towards the front and the other is sitting somewhere towards the back.

As the bus is moving through a busy highway, the chances it will collide with another bus is higher than the chances the passengers will collide with one another if the bus brakes too hard. That's because the distances between the vehicles on the road are smaller than the distances between the two passengers in the long bus.

The nearest star to the earth is 30 million solar diameters away. The nearest galaxy to the Milky Way Galaxy is within a diameter of our own galaxy. So you can see, given relatively smaller distances between galaxies, they are more likely to collide than the stars within them.

What Is a Ring Galaxy?

You might think that when two galaxies collide, then surely the stars within each galaxy will collide with the other galaxy's stars. Not really. Again, the distances between the stars are just so vast, few stars will collide with one another. Instead, the orbits of the stars are distorted.

If a galaxy were to be struck at its center by another galaxy, a ring galaxy will be produced. A ring galaxy is a rare kind of galaxy stemming from a head-on collision of two galaxies. It's called this clearly because it looks like a ring, a ring around a bright nucleus.

ring galaxy

This shape happens because when one galaxy strikes another galaxy near its center, the target galaxy's matter moves outwards, in the shape of a ring. Sort of like when a drop of milk splashes into a glass of milk, a ring of matter moves outwards from the center of the impact.

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