If the Universe made a slasher flick, it would star the innocent ESO 137-001 and violent baddie Abell 3627. In one scene, the beautiful ESO 137-001 would drift unwittingly into the apparently serene heart of Abell 3627. Then [cut scene] the proverbial Cosmic Blender switches on, ripping through the ESO 137-001’s once elegant spiral arms, blasting its ‘guts’ into intergalactic space.
The Universe can be pretty R-rated at times.
As witnessed by the Hubble Space Telescope and NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, this observation of the violent outcome of a galactic encounter is beautifully captured. ESO 137-001 is seen, being ripped apart, as is careens through the heart of Abell 3627, a huge galaxy cluster in the southern constellation of Triangulum Australe (The Southern Triangle).
As the galaxy moves through the dense region inside Abell 3627, which is filled with superheated gases, the galaxy is experiencing a process known as 'ram pressure stripping.' This pressure is analogous to the pressure felt by an object moving through a fluid; as the object powers forward, the surrounding dense medium causes drag. On a galactic scale, cold galactic gas is ripped from the spiral galaxy, leaving ultraviolet and X-ray streams (blue glow) in the galaxy's wake.
These streams may represent the guts of the unfortunate galaxy, but they certainly aren’t lifeless — the event has spawned an invigorated period of star formation inside these streams.
Astronomers are very interested in studying the effects of ram pressure stripping as the mechanism can have a dramatic effect on the future evolution of galaxies. As shown in graphic detail here by Hubble, vast quantities of gas has been pulled from the galaxy, hindering future star formation inside ESO 137-001.
This region of galactic brutality is located around 200 million light-years from the Milky Way and it’s all happening in the heart of the Great Attractor, a region of space where the combined masses of the galaxies contained within create such an overwhelming gravitational force that all surrounding galaxies and galactic clusters are being pulled toward it. Our galaxy and its galactic cluster, the Local Group, are headed in that direction.