Not every galaxy is a perfect spiral or globe — not by a long shot. This freaky foursome of galaxies observed recently by the Hubble Space Telescope is a good example of the variety of shapes these stellar objects can take. It's a "Hickson Compact Group," a cluster of galaxies that likely have affected each other's formation and as a result are highly irregular.
NGC 839, on the far left, has a strange morphology that may be due to recently merging with another galaxy. Its neighbor, NGC 838, has an extremely high star formation rate — but no black hole at the center.
On the far right there's NGC 833, which gives off X-rays so intense that it is thought to have been stripped of the common radiation-damping halo of dust and gas. And what's with those weird, oblong tails? Its stars may be in the process of being lured away by the supermassive black hole next door at NGC 835.
It's a good reminder that space may be vast, but it's also busy. Intergalactic dramas like this are playing out in this group and millions of others like it now — though they may take billions of years to conclude.