Lunch in Centaurus

Credit: ESo
This image of the central parts of Centaurus A reveals the parallelogram-shaped remains of a smaller galaxy that was gulped down about 200 to 700 million years ago. Credit: ESo

This image of the central parts of Centaurus A reveals the parallelogram-shaped remains of a smaller galaxy that was gulped down about 200 to 700 million years ago. Credit: ESo

Centaurus A catches our attention. With a wide swath of dust obscuring its bright center, Centaurus A, or NGC 5128, is one of the most studied objects in the southern sky. The spectacular band of dust is thought to be all that is left over after a small spiral galaxy collided with a larger elliptical galaxy between 200 million to 700 million years ago.

The image on top is how we see the image from Earth. In the image from European Southern Observatory‘s La Silla Observatory, we see a gas-rich galaxy with an active galactic core and scores of new stars. In the new bottom image, also from ESO, we see the twisted and warped leftovers of this galactic lunch. Astronomers used a new technique using near-infrared images and special telescopes to “see through” the thick dust. Behind that dust, they found a clear ring of stars. The glittering halo is all that is left over of the smaller spiral galaxy. Those aren’t just stars showing up in the ring around Centaurus A but thousands of huge, ancient star clusters, each containing millions of stars.

Centaurus A is the nearest giant elliptical galaxy. It’s really close to Earth, only 11 million light years away, toward the constellation Centaurus the Centaur.

Comments

S 20-11-2009, 10:28

I see a hand full of gold dust splashed across the galaxy…

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