Looming Cosmic Clouds Crisscross Giant Elliptical Galaxy Centaurus A

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Revealing the youthful glow of blue star clusters and a dusty core hidden from view 

Space news (astrophysics: giant elliptical galaxies; Centaurus A) – 11 million light-years from Earth toward the constellation Centaurus (NGC 5128) –  

The closest galaxy to Earth with an active nucleus containing a supermassive black hole that ejects jets of high-speed, extremely energetic particles into space, the giant elliptical island universe Centaurus A’s (NGC 5128) a nearby laboratory in which astronomers test present theories.  

The stunning Hubble Space Telescope image of Centaurus A (above) reveals a scene resembling cosmic clouds on a stormy day. Dark lanes of gas and dust crisscross its warped disk, revealing the youthful glow of blue star clusters, and red patches indicating shockwaves from a recent merger with a spiral galaxy. Shockwaves that cause hydrogen gas clouds to contract, starting the process of new star formation. 

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The startling composite image of Centaurus A above combines X-ray data from NASA’s Chandra Observatory, optical data from the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope, and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Very Large Array. The core of NGC 5128 is a mess of gas, dust, and stars in visible light, but X-rays and radio waves reveal a stunning jet of high-speed, extremely energetic particles emanating from its active nucleus. 

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Elliptical galaxy Centaurus A is a peculiar galaxy with unusual and chaotic lanes of dust running across its center making it hard for astronomers to study its core. Also called NGC 5128, Centaurus A has red stars and a round shape characteristic of a giant elliptical galaxy, a type normally low in dark dust lanes. Image Credit & Copyright: Roberto Colombari

What could power such an event?

The power source for the relativistic jets observed streaming from the active galactic nucleus of Centaurus A’s a supermassive black hole with the estimated mass of over 10 million suns. Beaming out from the galactic nucleus toward the upper left, the high-speed jet travels nearly 13,000 light-years, while a shorter jet shoots from the core in the opposing direction. Astronomers think the source of the chaos in active galaxy Centaurus A’s the noted collision with a spiral galaxy about 100 million years ago. 

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Thick lanes of dust obscure the center of Elliptical Galaxy Centaurus A from CFHT Credit & Copyright: Jean-Charles Cuillandre (CFHT) & Giovanni Anselmi (Coelum Astronomia), Hawaiian Starlight 

The amazing high-energy, extremely-fast, 30,000 light-year-long particle jet is the most striking feature in the false-color X-ray image taken by the Chandra Observatory. Beaming upward toward the left corner of the image, the relativistic jet seems to blast from the core of Centaurus A. A core containing an active, monster black hole pulling nearby matter into the center of its gravity well. An unknown realm mankind dreams about visiting one day. 

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This image taken by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope shows in unprecedented detail the galaxy Centaurus A’s last big meal: a spiral galaxy seemingly twisted into a parallelogram-shaped structure of dust. Spitzer’s ability to see dust and also see through it allowed the telescope to peer into the center of Centaurus A and capture this galactic remnant as never before. Credit: NASA/Spitzer

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Journey across the cosmos on a runaway supermassive star streaking out of 30 Doradus, the Tarantula Nebula.

Read about and witness the spectacular shockwave of a supernova in visible light for the first time.

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Lenticular Galaxy NGC 4111

Lens-shaped galaxies have characteristics astronomers see in elliptical and spiral galaxies

The elegant simplicity of NGC 4111, seen here in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, hides a more violent history than you might think. NGC 4111 is a lenticular, or lens-shaped, galaxy, lying about 50 million light-years from us in the constellation of Canes Venatici (The Hunting Dogs). Lenticular galaxies are an intermediate type of galaxy between an elliptical and a spiral. They host aged stars like ellipticals and have a disk like a spiral. However, that’s where the similarities end: they differ from ellipticals because they have a bulge and a thin disk, but are different from spirals because lenticular discs contain very little gas and dust, and do not feature the many-armed structure that is characteristic of spiral galaxies. In this image we see the disc of NGC 4111 edge-on, so it appears as a thin sliver of light on the sky. At first sight, NGC 4111 looks like a fairly uneventful galaxy, but there are unusual features that suggest it is not such a peaceful place. Running through its centre, at right angles to the thin disc, is a series of filaments, silhouetted against the bright core of the galaxy. These are made of dust, and astronomers think they are associated with a ring of material encircling the galaxy’s core. Since it is not aligned with the galaxy’s main disc, it is possible that this polar ring of gas and dust is actually the remains of a smaller galaxy that was swallowed up by NGC 4111 long ago.
The elegant simplicity of NGC 4111, seen here in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. 

Space news (lenticular galaxies) – 50 million light-years from Earth, in the constellation of Canes Venatici (The Hunting Dogs) –

This Hubble Space Telescope image of lenticular galaxy NGC 4111 shows an island universe with a more chaotic past than first thought. Lenticular or lens-shaped galaxies are labelled S0 on the Hubble Tuning Fork and are classified as a transitional type between spiral and elliptical galaxies.

Lenticular galaxies host older stars as observed in elliptical galaxies and include a disc as seen in spiral galaxies. However, they have a bulge and thin disc, which hasn’t been observed in elliptical galaxies. They also don’t have arms and the gas and dust detected in spiral galaxies.

NGC 4111 appears as a thin sliver of lights in this image because Hubble’s viewing the edge of the galaxy. At first glance, this island universe looks relatively quiet, but there are regions suggesting a more chaotic past. Pillars of dark filaments silhouetted against the bright core of the galaxy and running through the centre at right angles to the thin disc. Dark filaments of dust and gas astronomers associate with a ring of material orbiting its core.

This ring of orbiting material isn’t aligned with the main disc of NGC 4111, which has astrophysicists thinking it could be the remains of a smaller galaxy it collided with long ago. Considering the possible mass and volume of this past meal, indigestion probably isn’t unexpected. 

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Read about astronomers observing the merging of two galaxies into galaxy NGC 6052.

Hubble Space Telescope Views Island Universe Messier 96

A very asymmetric galaxy resembling a titanic island universe of glowing gas and dark dust

This new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows Messier 96, a spiral galaxy just over 35 million light-years away in the constellation of Leo (The Lion). It is of about the same mass and size as the Milky Way. It was first discovered by astronomer Pierre Méchain in 1781, and added to Charles Messier’s famous catalogue of astronomical objects just four days later. The galaxy resembles a giant maelstrom of glowing gas, rippled with dark dust that swirls inwards towards the nucleus. Messier 96 is a very asymmetric galaxy; its dust and gas is unevenly spread throughout its weak spiral arms, and its core is not exactly at the galactic centre. Its arms are also asymmetrical, thought to have been influenced by the gravitational pull of other galaxies within the same group as Messier 96. This group, named the M96 Group, also includes the bright galaxies Messier 105 and Messier 95, as well as a number of smaller and fainter galaxies. It is the nearest group containing both bright spirals and a bright elliptical galaxy (Messier 105).
This new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows Messier 96, a spiral galaxy just over 35 million light-years away in the constellation of Leo (The Lion). It is of about the same mass and size as the Milky Way. It was first discovered by astronomer Pierre Méchain in 1781 and added to Charles Messier’s famous catalogue of astronomical objects just four days later. The galaxy resembles a giant maelstrom of glowing gas, rippled with dark dust that swirls inwards towards the nucleus. Messier 96 is a very asymmetric galaxy; its dust and gas are unevenly spread throughout its weak spiral arms, and its core is not exactly at the galactic centre. Its arms are also asymmetrical, thought to have been influenced by the gravitational pull of other galaxies within the same group as Messier 96. This group named the M96 Group, also includes the bright galaxies Messier 105 and Messier 95, as well as a number of smaller and fainter galaxies. It is the nearest group containing both bright spirals and a bright elliptical galaxy (Messier 105).

Space news ( October 11, 2015) – 35 million light-years from Earth toward the constellation Leo the Lion –

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope recently took this stunning image of Messier 96, a spiral galaxy approximately the same volume and mass as our Milky Way. First viewed by Pierre Mechain in 1781, this island universe is unusual in many aspects compared to other spiral galaxies. The gas and dust in the spiral arms of Messier 96 are unevenly spread, due at least partially to the gravitational influence of nearby galaxies in the Leo I Galaxy Group. The core of this asymmetric island universe is also slightly off center, a fact that has scientists scratching their heads and wondering, why?

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Learn more about titanic collisions between galaxy clusters in Abell 1033.

Read about a magnetar discovered orbiting close to Sagittarius A.

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