Astronomy Photo of the Day
February 12th, 2013
This is an image of a galaxy far, far away (ten to thirteen million light-years to be specific), which happens to be quite stunning and completely different from the galaxy we call 'home" in most regards.
Centauri A (also known as NGC 5128, is a wonderful example of the wonders of space, as this image is equal parts mesmerizing and interesting since it helps astronomers delve deeper into the mysteries of active galaxies. So much in fact, that Centaurus A, which stretches about 60,000 light-years across, is one of the most extensively studied celestial features in all of the southern sky.
Upon closer inspection of this photo, note the blue splotches scattered throughout the galaxy. Those dots are active star forming regions, mostly consisting of large quantities of massive, blue-white stars that burn through their supply of hydrogen in only millions of years before exploding as a supernova blast. In the center, the blindingly bright light that illuminates the dust lanes in the galaxy is almost obscured entirely, at least at optical wavelengths, but come alive when viewed at longer wavelengths. Interestingly, this core is a mere ten light-days across, which makes it the smallest known extragalactic radio source, as it emits large quantities of radio waves and x-rays, most likely from the 100 million solar mass black hole that looms at the galactic center.
Astronomers believe the galaxy's configuration can be attributed to a galactic merger between an elliptical galaxy and another spiral, as typical elliptical galaxies do not generate nearly as many high mass stars that can be found here, due to a shortage of gas and dust clouds.
For More Information:
"The long reach of the Centaur's dark heart:"
You can see a larger version of this image here:
Image Credit: European Space Agency (ESO)