The galaxies pairing in a new image, captured by the MPG/ESO 2.2-meter telescope in Chile, display some curious features, demonstrating that each member of the duo is close enough to feel the distorting gravitational influence of the other. The gravitational tug of war has warped the spiral shape of one galaxy, NGC 3169, and fragmented the dust lanes in its companion NGC 3166. Meanwhile, a third galaxy, NGC 3165, has a front-row seat to the gravitational twisting and pulling.
This galactic grouping, found about 70 million light-years away in the constellation Sextans (The Sextant), was discovered by the English astronomer William Herschel in 1783. Modern astronomers have gauged the distance between NGC 3169 (left) and NGC 3166 (right) as a mere 50 000 light-years, a separation that is only about half the diameter of the Milky Way galaxy. In such tight quarters, gravity can start to play havoc with galactic structure.