Colliding and Merging Galaxies

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Science  17 Jan 1986:
Vol. 231, Issue 4735, pp. 227-234
DOI: 10.1126/science.231.4735.227


Aided by advances in computer technology and observations from space, astronomers have begun to unravel the mysteries of galaxy formation and evolution. Galaxies evolve by interacting with their environment and especially with each other. During brief but often fierce galactic encounters, gravitational forces generate strong tides that survive as telltale signatures for billions of years. Because these so-called collisions dissipate orbital energy, galaxies on bound orbits may eventually merge. Collisions and mergers are responsible for a great variety of phenomena, including the triggering of widespread star formation in galaxies and the fueling of nuclear activity in quasars. Evidence is accumulating that not all galaxies formed shortly after the Big Bang. A sizable fraction of them may have formed later, and many are still experiencing significant dynamical evolution.