Posts Tagged ‘elliptical galaxy’

Arching Eyebrow Frames Galactic Eye


An arching lane of dark dust resembles an eyebrow above a blue eye in this image of Arp 116 from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

Explore this unusual galactic pair. What stories or pictures do you see? Leave a note in the comments below.

These two galaxies couldn’t be more different. The giant elliptical galaxy in the center is known as Messier 60. The smaller spiral galaxy is NGC 4647. M60 is a classic example of elliptical galaxies. The massive galaxies are usually featureless, egg shaped galaxies that are very bright. Nearly a trillion stars can make up their bright cores and diffuse halos. Most notable in this pair is the color. Elliptical galaxies tend to have less gas and dust used in star making. So the stars in these galaxies are older yellow and red stars.

NGC 4647, on the other hand, is full of new blue stars. Dark lanes of dust and faint blotches of nebulae line the galactic arms offering fuel for future star formation. The galaxy is about the size of our own Milky Way Galaxy but is a lightweight compared to the M60 galaxy. The smaller spiral galaxy is only about two-thirds the size of its massive companion.

As you explore, look for dozens of faraway galaxies of various shapes through the bright haze of M60.

While the two galaxies overlap as seen from Earth, astronomers are not sure whether the two are close enough to interact. Waves of star formation at the edges of the galaxies usually offer the clearest signs that interactions are occurring. Recent studies from the Hubble Space Telescope do suggest that early interactions, a slight pushing and pulling of galaxies spiral arms, between the two are occurring.

M60 lies about 50 million light-years from Earth toward the constellation Virgo, the Virgin. NGC 4647 is a little more distant, roughly 63 million light-years away.

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Dark Banded S


A dark, warped band of dust resembling a shallow ‘S’ curls through the center of galaxy Centaurus A in this image from the European Southern Observatory.

Explore the deepest view of this active galaxy. What shapes or stories do you see? Leave a note in the comments below.

Centaurus A, also known as NGC 5128, is a massive elliptical galaxy. At its heart, lies a supermassive black hole. Scientists think only a black hole 100 million times more massive than the Sun could give off the energy we see coming from the center of this galaxy.

The most prominent feature of this galaxy is the warped lane of dust across the center of the galaxy. This is a strange structure for an elliptical galaxy. The dusty band is probably the mangled remains of another galaxy that was gobbled up by Centaurus A. This dark band contains a huge amount of dust and gas. If you zoom in close along the edges of this band, look for bright young star clusters and red-glowing clouds of hydrogen gas. As dust and gas are smashed together, new stars can form. As we move outward from the center, the elongated shape of the elliptical galaxy is seen in the glow of hundreds of billions of cooler and older stars. They glow more yellow and red than their much younger blue siblings.

In the upper left, look for the long strand of purple and pink gas. This filament is lined up with a jet of material that we cannot see with our eyes. In radio images, however, these jets are bright. More filaments can be seen farther out and toward the bottom right. Scientists think that these filaments are part of jets of material blasted from the central black hole. The closest filament is more than 30,000 light-years from the center of the galaxy. The faint outer filaments are about 65,000 light-years from galaxy’s nucleus.

Centaurus A is one of the most studied galaxies in the sky. The galaxy lies just 12 million light-years from Earth toward the constellation Centaurus. The name Centaurus A was given because it was the first major source of radio waves from that constellation in the 1950s.

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Drawn to a Bright Light

Credit: ESA/Hubble and NASA


Space looks like a dark, empty place. But the farther we peer deep into the far-flung cosmos all sorts of galaxies keep showing up as in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

Explore this deep image of the universe. Smaller and dimmer galaxies seem to be drawn like moths to the bright galaxy near the center of the image. What stories does your imagination create? Leave a note below.

The luminous galaxy in the center is a supergiant elliptical galaxy. It is the dominant galaxy in this great swarm of galaxies known as MACSJ1423.8+2404. This cluster is just one of many galaxy clusters that make up the Universe. Our Milky Way is part of a small cluster of galaxies known as the Local Group.

Grand spiral galaxies, barred spiral galaxies, small elliptical galaxies and interacting galaxies are visible in the scene. But it’s not light that draws the galaxies together. Gravity binds this cluster together. Great arcs of light surrounding the elliptical galaxy offer evidence of its immense gravity field. The gravity from the giant elliptical galaxy is so strong that it acts as a lens, bending, stretching and magnifying the light of galaxies behind it. The arcs of light are actually the twisted light of galaxies far beyond this huge cluster of galaxies. Astronomers believe the matter creating this colossal gravity well cannot be seen. Scientists call it dark matter and dark energy and it makes up a majority of Universe. Normal matter; the stuff we are made of as well as the planets and stars we see, make up just 5 percent of the Universe.

Galaxy cluster MACSJ1423.8+2404 is about one-third to the edge of the Universe; believed to be about 13.7 billion light-years from Earth. Light, speeding along at nearly 6 trillion miles per year, has been traveling for about 5 billion years from the constellation Boötes, the Herdsman, to reach our eyes on Earth. That’s older than our Solar System.

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Diffuse Butterfly

Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA

A faint and diffuse butterfly shape surrounds this image of an elliptical galaxy from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

Explore this swirl of stars. Leave a note in the comments below telling us what shapes and stories you see.

A long time ago, two spiral galaxies encountered each other far away. Astronomers call this new elliptical galaxy SDSS J162702.56+432833.9. Although distances are great in the Universe and galaxies are spread apart, galactic mergers seem to be a frequent occurrence. Gravity draws galaxies together. As they come closer, stars, dust and gas are pushed and pulled. The galaxies are stretched and distorted. The spiral arms are bent. Some spiral arms loop away from their galaxies in long tails. No stars collide but gas and dust smash together. Often the result is a burst of new star formation. If you look close at the image you can see bluish clouds of stars. These are hot new stars. We can also see many redder areas. These are regions of older stars that are billions of years old. The the bright galactic core, look for lanes of dust blocking out the starlight. These and the loops of faint stars far away from the galaxy may be all that is left of the spiral arms of the original galaxies. Scattered throughout the image, look for dozens of far-off galaxies. Some of the galaxies shine through the haze of the closer elliptical galaxy.

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Galactic Hook

Credit: NASA and ESA

The Universe seems to marvel in the weird. A hook, like a cosmic question mark, makes NGC 4696 stand out from its more shapeless elliptical galaxies in this image from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.

Explore NGC 4696 starting with the unusual hook, or question mark shaped thread of dust. Astronomers see dust lanes in spiral galaxies. Elliptical galaxies, however, are usually globs of aging stars looking like bright halos. Elliptical galaxies likely form from the merging of spiral galaxies. The compressing and stretching of gas and dust causes a brief burst of star formation. The gas and dust run out quickly though and with no new material, elliptical galaxies grow older and more faint.

What makes NGC 4696 so different is the huge dust lane, stretching 30,000 light-years across the galaxy’s bright core. At certain wavelengths of light, thin filaments of hydrogen gas give the galaxy a marbled effect. Stranger still is what we cannot see in this Hubble image. Using NASA’s orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory, astronomers see jets of material blasting away from the core of the galaxy at nearly the speed of light indicating a supermassive black hole lurks in the center of this odd galaxy.

As we explore farther from the center of NGC 4699, beyond the haze of its distant stars, we see a myriad of background galaxies. Those distant galaxies, of all shapes and sizes, offer astronomers a history lesson in how galaxies are made.

NGC 4699 is the largest galaxy in the Centaurus Cluster, a huge group of galaxies about 150 million light-years away.


The ancient peoples saw pictures in the sky. From those patterns in the heavens, ancient storytellers created legends about heroes, maidens, dragons, bears, centaurs, dogs and mythical creatures...
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