A galaxy being stretched out of shape has been imaged by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. Known as NGC 2146, it has been severely warped and deformed so that an immense dusty arm of glittering material now lies directly in front of the centre of the galaxy, as seen in the image.
NGC 2146 is classified as a barred spiral due to its shape, but the most distinctive feature is the dusty spiral arm that has looped in front of the galaxy’s core as seen from our perspective. The forces required to pull this structure out of its natural shape and twist it up to 45 degrees are colossal. The most likely explanation is that a neighbouring galaxy is gravitationally perturbing it and distorting the orbits of many of NGC 2146’s stars. It is probable that we are currently witnessing the end stages of a process which has been occurring for tens of millions of years.
Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA