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Interacting Galaxies M21 and M22

Here in the Milky Way galaxy we have astronomical front row seats as M81 and M82 face-off, a mere 12 million light-years away. Locked in a gravitational struggle for the past billion years or so, the two bright galaxies are captured in this deep telescopic snapshot, constructed from 25 hours of image data. Their most recent close encounter likely resulted in the enhanced spiral arms of M81 (left) and violent star forming regions in M82 so energetic the galaxy glows in X-rays. After repeated passes, in a few billion years only one galaxy will remain. From our perspective, this cosmic moment is seen through a foreground veil of the Milky Way's stars and clouds of dust. Faintly reflecting the foreground starlight, the pervasive dust clouds are relatively unexplored galactic cirrus only a few hundred light-years above the plane of the Milky Way.