Simple Elliptical Galaxy UGC 1382 Astonishes Astronomers

With 10 times the mass than first estimates and a younger inner region than outer, this out-of-the-way galaxy appears to be composed of assorted parts from other island universes 

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Space news (astrophysics: unusual, rare galaxy types; UGC 1382) – 250 million light-years from Earth in an out-of-the-way, isolated little corner of the cosmos – 

Living in a suburban neighborhood of an out-of-the-way little town or city is beneficial if you want to stop change due to foreign influences and exchanges. In a similar way, astronomers believe humongous, bizarre galaxy UGC 1382 kept its stunning size and the backward ages of its inner and outer components. At around 720,000 light-years across its more than seven times wider than the Milky Way and one of the largest isolated galaxies detected during the human journey to the beginning of space and time. The inner regions of this unusual galaxy are also younger than its outer parts, which would be like finding a tree whose inner growth rings are younger than its outer rings. It’s like UGC 1382 was put together from different parts of other galaxies that are held together by a delicate balance between processes and forces. An equilibrium scientists study in order to gain more understanding and knowledge of the evolution of galaxies and the universe. 

Mark Seibert Credits: Carnegie Observatories
Mark Seibert Credits: Carnegie Observatories

“This rare, ‘Frankenstein’ galaxy formed and is able to survive because it lies in a quiet little suburban neighborhood of the universe, where none of the hubbub of the more crowded parts can bother it,” said study co-author Mark Seibert of the Observatories of the Carnegie Institution for Science, Pasadena, California. “It is so delicate that a slight nudge from a neighbor would cause it to disintegrate.” 

The Galaxy Evolution Explorer Credits: NASA/JPL/Cal-tech
The Galaxy Evolution Explorer Credits: NASA/JPL/Cal-tech

Seibert and graduate student Lea Hagen discovered the massive size and backward ages of the inner and outer portions of UGC 1382 while looking at images of the galaxy taken by NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) in ultraviolet wavelengths. They had been searching for data on star formation in average elliptical galaxies, instead, a titan with intangible arms extending far outside UGC 1382 emerged from the darkness.   

“We saw spiral arms extending far outside this galaxy, which no one had noticed before, and which elliptical galaxies should not have,” said Hagen, who led the study. “That put us on an expedition to find out what this galaxy is and how it formed.” 

Painstakingly searching through data of the galaxy obtained by a team of telescopes astronomers built a new model of the structure and dimensions of this mysterious behemoth. Spanning nearly 720,000 light-years, UGC 1382 is one of the largest galaxies ever discovered. Very few new stars form in this island universe because gas is spread thinly along its rotating disk. Astronomers are studying the history of star formation and evolution of this unusual galaxy looking for clues to explain the mysteries uncovered. 

The most tantalizing clue’s the relative ages of the various parts of galaxy UGC 1382 are backward compared to previous galaxies observed during the human journey to the beginning of space and time. Normally, astrophysicists expect to see new star formation primarily in the outer, newer regions of a galaxy, while the older, inner regions contain mainly older stars. By combining data collected by the team, scientists determined the unusual structure and evolution of star formation in this massive galaxy. 

“The center of UGC 1382 is actually younger than the spiral disk surrounding it,” Seibert said. “It’s old on the outside and young on the inside. This is like finding a tree whose inner growth rings are younger than the outer rings.” 

The final conclusion

Astronomers think this unique galaxy resulted around 3 billion years ago when two smaller galaxies began orbiting a larger, possibly lenticular galaxy, which eventually settled into current galaxy UGC 1382. They continue to study this unusual galaxy looking for additional clues to explain its unique structure and evolution compared to other members of the Galaxy Zoo. This data will enable the search for more examples of this galaxy to help explain its unusual structure and evolution. 

“By understanding this galaxy, we can get clues to how galaxies form on a larger scale, and uncover more galactic neighborhood surprises,” Hagen said. 

Learn how astronomers think galaxy CGCG254-021 Got Its Tail.

Read about giant elliptical galaxy Centaurus A.

Learn more about lenticular galaxies.

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The Helix Nebula: The Eye of God

Expelled outer layers of white dwarf glowing brightly in the infrared 

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Space news (astrophysics: planetary nebula; Helix Nebula) – 650 light-years from Earth toward the constellation Aquarius – 

This composite image shows a visually stunning planetary nebula labeled “The Eye of God” more serious observers call the Helix Nebula (NGC 7293). Planetary nebula are the remains of a dying star much like our own Sol, only 5 billion years in the future. At this time the Sun will run out of hydrogen to use as its fuel source for the fusion process and will start using helium to create heavier carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen. Once it runs out of helium to fuse, it will die and expel its outer gas layers, leaving a tiny, hot core called a white dwarf. An Earth-sized core so dense a teaspoon full would weigh more than a few black rhinos. 

First discovered in the 18th century, planetary nebula like the Helix Nebula emit across a similar, broad spectrum from ultraviolet to infrared. The image shown at the top uses a combination of ultraviolet radiation collected by NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer ((GALEX in blue(0.15 to 2.3 microns)) and infrared light detected by their Spitzer Space Telescope ((red(8 to 24 microns) and green(3.6 to 4.5 microns)) and Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer ((WISE in red(3.4 to 4.5 microns)) showing the subtle differences observed in the different wavelengths of light emitted by ghostly celestial objects like NGC 7293 and NGC 6369 (The Little Ghost). 

Dust makes this cosmic eye look red. This eerie Spitzer Space Telescope image shows infrared radiation from the well-studied Helix Nebula (NGC 7293), which is a mere 700 light-years away in the constellation Aquarius. The two light-year diameter shroud of dust and gas around a central white dwarf has long been considered an excellent example of a planetary nebula, representing the final stages in the evolution of a sun-like star. Spitzer data show the nebula's central star is itself immersed in a surprisingly bright infrared glow. Models suggest the glow is produced by a dust debris disk. Even though the nebular material was ejected from the star many thousands of years ago, the close-in dust could be generated by collisions in a reservoir of objects analogous to our own solar system's Kuiper Belt or cometary Oort cloud. Formed in the distant planetary system, the comet-like bodies have otherwise survived even the dramatic late stages of the star's evolution. Image credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, Kate Su (Steward Obs, U. Arizona) et al.
Dust makes this cosmic eye look red. This eerie Spitzer Space Telescope image shows infrared radiation from the well-studied Helix Nebula (NGC 7293), which is a mere 700 light-years away in the constellation Aquarius. The two light-year diameter shroud of dust and gas around a central white dwarf has long been considered an excellent example of a planetary nebula, representing the final stages in the evolution of a sun-like star.
Spitzer data show the nebula’s central star is itself immersed in a surprisingly bright infrared glow. Models suggest the glow is produced by a dust debris disk. Even though the nebular material was ejected from the star many thousands of years ago, the close-in dust could be generated by collisions in a reservoir of objects analogous to our own solar system’s Kuiper Belt or cometary Oort cloud. Formed in the distant planetary system, the comet-like bodies have otherwise survived even the dramatic late stages of the star’s evolution.
Image credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, Kate Su (Steward Obs, U. Arizona) et al.

Astronomers have studied planetary nebulae like the Helix Nebula and M2-9 (Wings of a Butterfly Nebula) as much as any recorded during the human journey to the beginning of space and time. The remnant of a rapidly evolving star near the end of its lifespan, the white dwarf star is a tiny, barely perceptible point of light at the center of the nebula in this composite image. Thousands of planetary nebula have been detected within a distance of about 100 million light-years of Earth and astronomers estimate about 10,000 exist in the Milky Way. Making planetary nebula a relatively common celestial mystery observed as we trace our roots to their beginning. 

Watch this YouTube video on the Helix Nebula.

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This collage of planetary nebula images was put together by NASA technicians to express the beauty and wonder of planetary nebula. Credits: NASA

Read and learn about the icy blue wings of planetary nebula Hen 2-437.

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How Galaxy CGCG254-021 Got its Tail

A tale of two galactic cities 

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Space news (galaxy formation: galaxy tails; the largest ever) – 680 million light-years from Earth toward the constellation Hercules – 

The ghostly blue, diffuse ribbon of hot gas seen trailing behind galaxy CGCG254-021 in the upper right of this composite image is the longest, largest galaxy tail observed during the human journey to the beginning of space and time. This stunning view was made using X-ray data (blue) collected by NASA’s Chandra Observatory and data (yellow) from the Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes.

NASA's Galaxy Evolution Explorer found a tail behind a galaxy called IC 3418. The star-studded tail can be seen on the left, as detected by the space telescope in ultraviolet light. The tail has escaped detection in visible light, as shown by the image on the right, taken by a visible-light telescope on the ground. This tail was created as the galaxy plunged into gas in a family of galaxies known as the Virgo cluster. The image on the left is a composite of data from the Galaxy Evolution Explorer (far-ultraviolet light is dark blue and near-ultraviolet light is light blue); and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (visible light is colored green and red). The image on the right is from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. Other galaxies and stars can be seen scattered throughout the image. Another galaxy called IC 3413, which is part of the Virgo cluster, can be seen to the right of IC 3418 as an oval-shaped blob. The bright large dot at upper right is a star in our Milky Way galaxy. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer found a tail behind a galaxy called IC 3418. The star-studded tail can be seen on the left, as detected by the space telescope in ultraviolet light. The tail has escaped detection in visible light, as shown by the image on the right, taken by a visible-light telescope on the ground. This tail was created as the galaxy plunged into gas in a family of galaxies known as the Virgo cluster.
The image on the left is a composite of data from the Galaxy Evolution Explorer (far-ultraviolet light is dark blue and near-ultraviolet light is light blue); and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (visible light is colored green and red). The image on the right is from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.
Other galaxies and stars can be seen scattered throughout the image. Another galaxy called IC 3413, which is part of the Virgo cluster, can be seen to the right of IC 3418 as an oval-shaped blob. The bright large dot at upper right is a star in our Milky Way galaxy.
Image Credit:
NASA/JPL-Caltech

Galaxy tails are wispy ribbons of hot gas stripped from a galaxy as it travels through an immense cloud of hot intergalactic gas. In the case of galaxy CGCG254-021, a tail of hot gas estimated at over 250,000 light-years in length, and around 10 million degrees Centigrade, which is half the estimated temperature of the intergalactic gas cloud. 

Astronomers think CGCG254-021’s tail was stripped from the galaxy as it moved through hot gas in galaxy cluster Zwicky 8338. The pressure exerted by this rapid motion stripped gas away from the galaxy, creating the ghostly blue ribbon of hot gas observed. A ribbon astronomers think could be completely free of the galaxy, considering the distance between the two as seen in this image. 

Astronomers have been studying interactions between the ribbon and galaxy CGCG254-021 by examining the characteristics and properties of the galaxy and its ghostly tail. They noted it has a brighter spot they call its head with a tail of diffuse x-ray emission trailing behind. This could indicate the gas in the head in cooler and richer in elements heavier than helium compared to the rest of the ribbon. There’s also a hint of a bow shock at the head of the tail with the galaxy at the front.  

Additional observations by researchers at infrared wavelengths also show galaxy CGCG254-021 has more mass than any other galaxy in galaxy cluster Zwicky 8338. Using the data obtained and models of the evolution of galaxies astrophysicists predicted it recently had the highest rate of new star formation in the cluster. However, they can find no evidence of new stars recently forming within the galaxy. They think this lack of new stars is due to the stripping of gas as it traveled through galaxy cluster Zwicky 8338.  

The foreground galaxy is NGC 4569 of the Virgo cluster. The red filaments at the right of the galaxy show the hydrogen gas that has been removed. The tail represents about 95 per cent of the gas reservoir the galaxy needs to feed the formation of new stars. Credit: CFHT/Coelum
The foreground galaxy is NGC 4569 of the Virgo cluster. The red filaments at the right of the galaxy show the hydrogen gas that has been removed. The tail represents about 95 per cent of the gas reservoir the galaxy needs to feed the formation of new stars. Credit: CFHT/Coelum

What’s next?

Astrophysicists plan on additional observations of galaxy CGCG254-021 and Zwicky 8383 in the future using Chandra, the Newton Group of telescopes, and other assets. They hope to fill in the blanks on how it obtained the largest galaxy tail recorded during the human journey to the beginning of space and time. To learn the story of how this galaxy got its ghostly blue tail. 

Read the PDF on the study of the tail of galaxy CGCG254-021 in galaxy cluster Zwicky 8383.

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Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes (yellow) in the Canary Island. 

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