The galaxy is zooming toward the upper right of this image, in between other galaxies in the Norma cluster located over 200 million light-years away. The road is harsh: intergalactic gas in the Norma cluster is sparse, but so hot at 180 million degrees Fahrenheit that it glows in X-rays.
The spiral plows through the seething intra-cluster gas so rapidly – at nearly 4.5 million miles per hour — that much of its own gas is caught and torn away. Astronomers call this “ram pressure stripping.” The galaxy’s stars remain intact due to the binding force of their gravity.
Tattered threads of gas, the blue jellyfish-tendrils trailing ESO 137-001 in the image, illustrate the process. Ram pressure has strung this gas away from its home in the spiral galaxy and out over intergalactic space. Once there, these strips of gas have erupted with young, massive stars, which are pumping out light in vivid blues and ultraviolet. The brown, smoky region near the center of the spiral is being pushed in a similar manner, although in this case it is small dust particles, and not gas, that are being dragged backwards by the intra-cluster medium.