This Week in Space: Galaxies collide and bugs become astronauts

ESA

After an astronomically tumultuous couple of weeks, Earth’s imminent doom is finally seeming a little bit less imminent. But that doesn’t mean we’ve run out of things to talk about! Read on for some fascinating space stories from this week.

The merging of galaxies [NASA]

Although our home planet may have been subjected to dangerous space debris a couple weeks ago, at least our entire galaxy instead being ripped asunder. The photo at top shows what the ESA is calling a cosmic “flying V”, and is representative of two galaxies that are currently interacting with one another.

Scientists call the colliding galaxies IC 2184, and the large streams coming off of the galaxies are a clear indication that the two galaxies are having an effect on each other. The streaks of light are called tidal tails, which “are thin, elongated streams of gas, dust and stars that extend away from a galaxy into space,” according to the ESA.

The tidal tails are a result of the gravitational interaction between the galaxies, leaving behind a trail of galactic bit and bobs, such as stars and dust. All of a sudden, our meteorites and asteroids don’t seem so bad. [via Gizmodo]

NASA captures footage of an amazing sun flare [YouTube]

In this video, NASA captured one especially breathtaking solar eruption on the Sun that combines some of the most common eruptive events into one spectacular display. A solar flare followed by a coronal mass ejection are quickly caught by the sun’s magnetic field, causing the coronal rain.

The video is just over four minutes long, but the actual event occurred over the course of nearly ten hours on July 19, 2012. Every second of the video corresponds to six minutes of real time footage. Oh, and before you start freaking out, that picture of the Earth is a digital addition to give you an idea of how large this burst was. We weren’t nearly swallowed by coronal rain. [via The Verge]

SpaceX is sending bugs into space...for science [Palo Alto Online]

We have sent dogs, monkeys, fish, and humans into space, but Dr. Peter H.U. Lee, a heart surgeon at the Stanford University School of Medicine, believes it’s time to launch fruit flies into orbit.

No, Dr. Lee is not a mad scientist attempting to cultivate mutant space flies with extraordinary strength (even though that would be a lot more exciting); the fruit flies will be used to help study the effects of weightlessness and long-term space travel on the heart.

According to Lee, “[e]very system in the body appears to be negatively impacted by space flight,” but very little research has been done directly concerning the heart. Although fruit flies are structurally dissimilar to humans, their genes are actually quite similar, so the studies will focus heavily on altered gene expression once the flies return to Earth.

The flies could be traveling to the International Space Station as early as September, so we’ll be sure to check back once the flies make it to orbit. Maybe Commander Hadfield will even have another song ready by then.

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