“Dormammu, I’ve come to bargain!”
Unscientific though it may be, I like to think that when Halloween rolls around, the universe sends us little signs of acknowledgement of the spooky season. Sometimes it’s something minor like an increase in whispering winds or slamming doors. Sometimes it’s something cosmic like a giant space face staring right at us. This is one of those latter times.
Early on Wednesday, the Hubble Space Telescope caught a glimpse of two far-off galaxies in the middle of a head-on collision. Now, this isn’t that unusual, we see galaxies colliding all the time. But it’s rather telling of the season that the shape of this particular collision is that of a giant, burning-eyed specter with its gaze pointed right at us.
The phenomenon, named Arp-Madore 2026-42, is a rarity of cosmic occurrences, and not just because of its ghastly appearance. While galaxy collisions are common, very rarely do they collide head-on, and in the exact right way to create a ring shape. Also, larger galaxies tend to swallow up the smaller ones, but the two that make up Arp-Madore are roughly the same size, hence the more-or-less proportional face.
The space face is estimated to be visible for the next 100 million years, and another one to two billion years after that, the galaxies will be completely merged. So, have fun spending the rest of your life knowing a cosmic titan is staring at you. I know I will.