NGC 3226 & NGC 3227 -- Interacting Galaxies in Leo
Two Galaxies Meet
Over time galaxies grow by assimilating other galaxies. It is the power of gravity the
draws galaxies to each other. Most of the time it is a large galaxy consuming much
smaller galaxies – but not always. When two galactic giants are in the process of
merging, the results can be impressive. Long tidal tails of gas, dust and stars connect
these galaxies as their spiral orbits come near to each other. Gravitational disruption
within the galaxies often forces exaggerated black hole and stellar activity. Such
galaxies with over-active cores are called Seyfert Galaxies. In other words, the two
large galaxies, tear at each other before finally emerging – a process that takes place
over millions of years.
The sky has many examples of large galaxies interacting, but all are best seen under a
dark-sky with a large-aperture telescope. However, there are a few interacting galaxies
that can be seen, in enough detail, from suburbia with a modest-sized telescope to be
worthwhile. The galactic pair NGC 3226 & NGC 3227, in Leo is a wonderful example.
In the 6-inch refractor, from the deck at the house, the bright-active cores of both galaxies
are apparent. I am not able to separate the two galaxies proper, only their cores. The
soft-blur of the outer sections of the galaxies run together (Note -- from a dark-site and
my 18-inch Dobsonian I can separate the two galaxies with dark space in-between).
The forces at work when two large galaxies meet each other are dynamic and spectacular.
Most of which can only be imagined/acknowledged as one views the pair of soft touching
glows through the eyepiece. Appreciating what one cannot see is part of the lure of