Centaurus A: Our neighbour in the process of merging

NOIRLab recently released the above new photo of Centaurus A:

The galaxy Centaurus A, which lies over 12 million light-years away in the direction of the southern-hemisphere constellation Centaurus (The Centaur), is the leading light of this striking image. This image provides a spectacular view of the luminous glow of stars and the dark tendrils of dust that hide the bright center of the galaxy. This dust is the result of a past galactic collision, in which a giant elliptical galaxy merged with a smaller spiral galaxy. As well as large amounts of gas and dust, Centaurus A’s dust lane contains widespread star formation, as indicated by the red clouds of hydrogen and by the large number of faint blue stars visible at each end of the dust lane.

Spectacular Portrait of Centaurus A, NOIRLab

As a result of its recent collision, the Centaurus A is currently undergoing a burst of star formation and has an active supermassive black hole at its centre. When viewed in radio and X-rays the galaxy can be seen to have massive jets of material being ejected from its black hole:

Centaurus A seen in optical, radio, and X-ray. Shooting from the centre of the galaxy are two massive jets of material being ejected by its central supermassive black hole. Credit: ESO/WFI (Optical); MPIfR/ESO/APEX/A.Weiss et al. (Submillimetre); NASA/CXC/CfA/R.Kraft et al. (X-ray)

Centaurus A is relatively close to us (as massive galaxies go), so the fact that we have front row seats to its collision makes it interesting to astronomers who study galaxy mergers.

Featured image credit: CTIO/NOIRLab/DOE/NSF/AURA

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