The team has discovered a nearby, head-on collision of two cosmic clusters that smashed together thousands of galaxies and trillions of stars. The event is second only to the Big Bang -- the cataclysmic expansion that resulted in the birth of the known universe -- in total energy output.
The scientists are calling the event the perfect cosmic storm. The galaxy clusters collided like two high-pressure weather fronts and created hurricane-like conditions, tossing galaxies far from their paths and churning shock waves of 100-million-degree gas through intergalactic space, they said.
The merger supports the theory that the universe built its current hierarchical structure from the bottom up, essentially through mergers of smaller galaxies and galaxy clusters into bigger ones.
"Here before our eyes we see the making of one of the biggest objects in the universe," said team leader Patrick Henry of the University of Hawaii. "What was once two distinct but smaller galaxy clusters 300 million years ago is now one massive cluster in turmoil."