Image Credit: Steve Mazlin, Jack Harvey, Jose Joaquin Perez; SSRO-South, at PROMPT/CTIO

Like the greatest of the greats, this galaxy—formally dubbed NGC 1097—can be seen in various forms and it never, ever disappoints. Ultimately, it can be found approximately 45 million light-years from Earth in the southern constellation of Fornax.

By official designation, NGC 1097 is a Seyfert galaxy—a term used to describe active galaxies with a plethora of highly-ionized gases, mostly seen within the spectral lines of galactic cores (sometimes, galaxies of this kind are simply noted  as active galactic nuclei, or AGN). Naturally, this activity can be attributed to gargantuan black holes that lurk within the central regions of almost all moderately-sized galaxies. In the case of this particular galaxy, its supermassive black hole weighs more than 100 million Suns combined (for the sake of comparison, the Milky Way’s central black hole, Sagittarius A*, weighs just 4 million solar masses).

A closer look at NGC 1097’s core (Credit: ESO)

With its large stature comes an insatiable appetite, for stars, planets, and even interstellar materials like gas and dust—basically anything that makes the mistake of wandering too close to its event horizon; after a high concentration of incoming material backs up, more than the object can consume at any given time, it accumulates in the form of an accretion disk, and emits the spectral lines that dictate its classification as a Seyfert galaxy.

It has several other interesting features, which appear to be the result of a gravitational merger in NGC 1097’s distant past. The companion is no longer recognizable as a separate entity, but ancient star streams, which manifest as faint, x-shaped jets, give the hypothesis credence.

See a larger image here.

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