Hubble Spots Beautifully Tangled Galaxy

Galaxy NGC 4696. NASA/ESA/Hubble/A. Fabian

New observations by the Hubble space telescope have revealed a complex structure of gas ribbons around elliptical galaxy NGC 4696, located 150 million light-years away.

The crimson filaments, discovered more than 15 years ago, have now been studied in detail by an international team led by astronomers at the University of Cambridge. The tendrils are 30,000 light-years in length and 200 light-years thick, and they have a density 10 times higher than the surrounding gas.  

With these gas tentacles, you've probably seen enough galaxies to know where this is going. The culprit of the complex structure is the supermassive black hole at the core of the galaxy. It floods the inner core of the galaxy with energy, and the cold gas is pushed out by the bubbling action of the radiation pressure.

The filaments have a total mass of 1.6 million times that of the Sun, and combined with the increased density of the gas, this would usually imply new stars being born, but the researchers didn’t spot any and they think new star-formation is being hindered by the strong magnetic field.

This incredible dust lane is not an exclusive to this galaxy, but the newly released image is absolutely breathtaking. Dust lanes are usually left-over artifacts of galaxy mergers, the bigger of which are actually responsible for forming ellipticals from a collision between two spiral galaxies.

All the observations and the analysis conducted by the researchers is published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

NGC 4696 is the central and biggest galaxy of the Centaurus cluster, which counts hundreds of objects as its members. It’s in the same category of some of the brightest and most massive galaxies in the universe, and it this wasn’t enough, the phenomenal red streaks seen by the astronomers make NGC 4696 a true space oddity.

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