Category Archives: Galaxies

Galactic Hit-and-Run


Hubble et al.: The irregular galaxy NGC 4485 shows all the signs of having been involved in a hit-and-run accident with a bypassing galaxy. Rather than destroying the galaxy, the chance encounter is spawning a new generation of stars, and presumably planets.

The right side of the galaxy is ablaze with star formation, shown in the plethora of young blue stars and star-incubating pinkish nebulas. The left side, however, looks intact. It contains hints of the galaxy’s previous spiral structure, which, at one time, was undergoing normal galactic evolution.

The larger culprit galaxy, NGC 4490, is off the bottom of the frame. The two galaxies sideswiped each other millions of years ago and are now 24,000 light-years apart. The gravitational tug-of-war between them created rippling patches of higher-density gas and dust within both galaxies. This activity triggered a flurry of star formation.

This galaxy is a nearby example of the kind of cosmic bumper-car activity that was more common billions of years ago when the universe was smaller and galaxies were closer together.

NGC 4485 lies 25 million light-years away in the northern constellation Canes Venatici (the Hunting Dogs).

This new image, captured by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3), provides further insight into the complexities of galaxy evolution.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency). NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy in Washington, D.C.

Text credit: Space Telescope Science Institute
Image credit: NASA, ESA; acknowledgment: T. Roberts (Durham University, UK), D. Calzetti (University of Massachusetts) and the LEGUS Team, R. Tully (University of Hawaii) and R. Chandar (University of Toledo)

Hubble Looks at NGC 2903

NGC 2903 was discovered by William Hershel in 1784. Although this spiral galaxy was certainly bright enough to be seen by Charles Messier he never added it to his famous catalog. There is an entry for it in the SEDS site.

As for this lovely image from Hubble ESA writes:

Few of the Universe’s residents are as iconic as the spiral galaxy. These limelight-hogging celestial objects combine whirling, pinwheeling arms with scatterings of sparkling stars, glowing bursts of gas, and dark, weaving lanes of cosmic dust, creating truly awesome scenes — especially when viewed through a telescope such as the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. In fact, this image from Hubble frames a perfect spiral specimen: the stunning NGC 2903.

NGC 2903 is located about 30 million light-years away in the constellation of Leo (The Lion), and was studied as part of a Hubble survey of the central regions of roughly 145 nearby disc galaxies. This study aimed to help astronomers better understand the relationship between the black holes that lurk at the cores of galaxies like these, and the rugby-ball-shaped bulge of stars, gas, and dust at the galaxy’s centre — such as that seen in this image.

Image: ESA/Hubble & NASA, L. Ho et al.; CC BY 4.0

Merging Galaxies

Can you image being on a planet in either one of these colliding galaxies? One day in the very far future this might be a good analogy of our merging with the Andromeda galaxy. What would the sky look like, even in the daytime?

ESA: Located in the constellation of Hercules, about 230 million light-years away, NGC 6052 is a pair of colliding galaxies. They were first discovered in 1784 by William Herschel and were originally classified as a single irregular galaxy because of their odd shape. However, we now know that NGC 6052 actually consists of two galaxies that are in the process of colliding. This particular image of NGC 6052 was taken using the Wide Field Camera 3 on the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

A long time ago gravity drew the two galaxies together into the chaotic state we now observe. Stars from within both of the original galaxies now follow new trajectories caused by the new gravitational effects. However, actual collisions between stars themselves are very rare as stars are very small relative to the distances between them (most of a galaxy is empty space). Eventually things will settle down and one day the two galaxies will have fully merged to form a single, stable galaxy.

Our own galaxy, the Milky Way, will undergo a similar collision in the future with our nearest galactic neighbour, the Andromeda Galaxy. Although this is not expected to happen for around 4 billion years so there is nothing to worry about just yet.

This object was previously observed by Hubble with its old WFPC2 camera. That image was released in 2015.

Image: ESA/Hubble & NASA, A. Adamo et al.; CC BY 4.0

Our (distant) Future

NASA: An image of the galaxy Arp299B, which is undergoing a merging process with Arp299A (the galaxy to the left), captured by NASA’s Hubble space telescope. The inset features an artist’s illustration of a tidal disruption event (TDE), which occurs when a star passes fatally close to a supermassive black hole. A TDE was recently observed near the center of Arp299B.

Is this our future? Yes it or something approximating this will, it seems, will happen. The Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy will one day merge. Not to worry, it will be many millions of years in the future. Most galaxies are red-shifted, moving away from us; most but not all. Andromeda is blue-shifted meaning it is moving towards us.

Red-shifted? Blue-shifted? Ahh, the Doppler Effect.


Lop-sided Galaxy NGC 4625

This galaxy is called NGC 4625 and it is a dwarf galaxy located 30-million light-years away in the constellation Canes Venatici.

It is indeed quite lop-sided. I would imagine the rotation of the galaxy would reflect the absence of mass by the center of gravity being just a little off and producing a distinct wobble.

From ESA/NASA/Hubble: This new picture of the week, taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, shows the dwarf galaxy NGC 4625, located about 30 million light-years away in the constellation of Canes Venatici (The Hunting Dogs). The image, acquired with the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), reveals the single major spiral arm of the galaxy, which gives it an asymmetric appearance. But why is there only one such spiral arm, when spiral galaxies normally have at least two?

Astronomers looked at NGC 4625 in different wavelengths in the hope of solving this cosmic mystery. Observations in the ultraviolet provided the first hint: in ultraviolet light the disk of the galaxy appears four times larger than on the image depicted here. An indication that there are a large number of very young and hot — hence mainly visible in the ultraviolet — stars forming in the outer regions of the galaxy. These young stars are only around one billion years old, about 10 times younger than the stars seen in the optical center. At first astronomers assumed that this high star formation rate was being triggered by the interaction with another, nearby dwarf galaxy called NGC 4618.

They speculated that NGC 4618 may be the culprit “harassing” NGC 4625, causing it to lose all but one spiral arm. In 2004 astronomers found proof for this claim. The gas in the outermost regions of the dwarf galaxy NGC 4618 has been strongly affected by NGC 4625.

Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA
Text credit: European Space Agency

Hubble Parallel Field

HUBBLE: While one instrument of the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope observed a pair of spiral galaxies for its 27th anniversary last month, another simultaneously observed a nearby patch of the sky to obtain this wide-field view.

These ‘parallel field’ observations increase the telescope’s productivity.

This parallel field shows an area of the sky awash largely with spiral galaxies like our Milky Way. Most of the prominent galaxies look different only because they are tilted at various orientations to our viewpoint – from edge-on to face-on. A few others are interacting or merging.

The image also shows a number of foreground stars in our own galaxy.

Credit: NASA, ESA & M. Mutchler (STScI)

Expelling A Black Hole

Think gravity waves are weak? Think again, wow almost hard to believe.

Credit: Hubblesite

from STSci:

Astronomers have uncovered a supermassive black hole that has been propelled out of the center of a distant galaxy by what could be the awesome power of gravitational waves.

Though there have been several other suspected, similarly booted black holes elsewhere, none has been confirmed so far. Astronomers think this object, detected by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, is a very strong case. Weighing more than 1 billion suns, the rogue black hole is the most massive black hole ever detected to have been kicked out of its central home.

Researchers estimate that it took the equivalent energy of 100 million supernovas exploding simultaneously to jettison the black hole. The most plausible explanation for this propulsive energy is that the monster object was given a kick by gravitational waves unleashed by the merger of two hefty black holes at the center of the host galaxy.
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NuStar Looks at Was 49

This is pretty amazing.  For scale the distance mentioned in the press release below of 26,000 light years  approximates the distance from out solar system to the center of our Milky Way.  See here.

A long way for solar system sure, but a galaxy?  Even a small one?  Amazing.

The press release:

A supermassive black hole inside a tiny galaxy is challenging scientists’ ideas about what happens when two galaxies become one.

Was 49 is the name of a system consisting of a large disk galaxy, referred to as Was 49a, merging with a much smaller “dwarf” galaxy called Was 49b. The dwarf galaxy rotates within the larger galaxy’s disk, about 26,000 light-years from its center. Thanks to NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) mission, scientists have discovered that the dwarf galaxy is so luminous in high-energy X-rays, it must host a supermassive black hole much larger and more powerful than expected.

“This is a completely unique system and runs contrary to what we understand of galaxy mergers,” said Nathan Secrest, lead author of the study and postdoctoral fellow at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington.

Data from NuSTAR and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey suggest that the mass of the dwarf galaxy’s black hole is huge, compared to similarly sized galaxies, at more than 2 percent of the galaxy’s own mass.

“We didn’t think that dwarf galaxies hosted supermassive black holes this big,” Secrest said. “This black hole could be hundreds of times more massive than what we would expect for a galaxy of this size, depending on how the galaxy evolved in relation to other galaxies.”

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Frankenstein Galaxy


Galex data!

About the image<(Credits: NASA/JPL/Caltech/SDSS/NRAO/L. Hagen and M. Seibert):

About 250 million light-years away, there’s a neighborhood of our universe that astronomers had considered quiet and unremarkable. But now, scientists have uncovered an enormous, bizarre galaxy possibly formed from the parts of other galaxies.

A new study to be published in the Astrophysical Journal reveals the secret of UGC 1382, a galaxy that had originally been thought to be old, small and typical. Instead, scientists using data from NASA telescopes and other observatories have discovered that the galaxy is 10 times bigger than previously thought and, unlike most galaxies, its insides are younger than its outsides, almost as if it had been built using spare parts.

“This rare, ‘Frankenstein’ galaxy formed and is able to survive because it lies in a quiet little suburban neighborhood of the universe, where none of the hubbub of the more crowded parts can bother it,” said study co-author Mark Seibert of the Observatories of the Carnegie Institution for Science, Pasadena, California. “It is so delicate that a slight nudge from a neighbor would cause it to disintegrate.”

Seibert and Lea Hagen, a graduate student at Pennsylvania State University, University Park, came upon this galaxy by accident. They had been looking for stars forming in run-of-the-mill elliptical galaxies, which do not spin and are more three-dimensional and football-shaped than flat disks. Astronomers originally thought that UGC 1382 was one of those.

But while looking at images of galaxies in ultraviolet light through data from NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX), a behemoth began to emerge from the darkness.

“We saw spiral arms extending far outside this galaxy, which no one had noticed before, and which elliptical galaxies should not have,” said Hagen, who led the study. “That put us on an expedition to find out what this galaxy is and how it formed.”

Researchers then looked at data of the galaxy from other telescopes: the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, the Two Micron All-Sky Survey (2MASS), NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Very Large Array and Carnegie’s du Pont Telescope at Las Campanas Observatory. After GALEX revealed previously unseen structures to the astronomers, optical and infrared light observations from the other telescopes allowed the researchers to build a new model of this mysterious galaxy.

As it turns out, UGC 1382, at about 718,000 light-years across, is more than seven times wider than the Milky Way. It is also one of the three largest isolated disk galaxies ever discovered, according to the study. This galaxy is a rotating disk of low-density gas. Stars don’t form here very quickly because the gas is so spread out.

But the biggest surprise was how the relative ages of the galaxy’s components appear backwards. In most galaxies, the innermost portion forms first and contains the oldest stars. As the galaxy grows, its outer, newer regions have the youngest stars. Not so with UGC 1382. By combining observations from many different telescopes, astronomers were able to piece together the historical record of when stars formed in this galaxy — and the result was bizarre.

“The center of UGC 1382 is actually younger than the spiral disk surrounding it,” Seibert said. “It’s old on the outside and young on the inside. This is like finding a tree whose inner growth rings are younger than the outer rings.”

The unique galactic structure may have resulted from separate entities coming together, rather than a single entity that grew outward. In other words, two parts of the galaxy seem to have evolved independently before merging — each with its own history.

At first, there was likely a group of small galaxies dominated by gas and dark matter, which is an invisible substance that makes up about 27 percent of all matter and energy in the universe (our own matter is only 5 percent). Later, a lenticular galaxy, a rotating disk without spiral arms, would have formed nearby. At least 3 billion years ago, the smaller galaxies may have fallen into orbit around the lenticular galaxy, eventually settling into the wide disk seen today.

More galaxies like this may exist, but more research is needed to look for them.

“By understanding this galaxy, we can get clues to how galaxies form on a larger scale, and uncover more galactic neighborhood surprises,” Hagen said.

The GALEX mission, which ended in 2013 after more than a decade of scanning the skies in ultraviolet light, was led by scientists at Caltech in Pasadena, California. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, also in Pasadena, managed the mission and built the science instrument. Data for the 2MASS and WISE missions are archived at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (IPAC) at Caltech. JPL is managed by Caltech for NASA.

Merging Galaxies


One day our Milky Way will be in the midst of a similar merger, ours with Andromeda.

The ESA description:
The subject of this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image is known as NGC 3597. It is the product of a collision between two good-sized galaxies, and is slowly evolving to become a giant elliptical galaxy. This type of galaxy has grown more and more common as the Universe has evolved, with initially small galaxies merging and progressively building up into larger galactic structures over time.

NGC 3597 is located approximately 150 million light-years away in the constellation of Crater (The Cup). Astronomers study NGC 3597 to learn more about how elliptical galaxies form — many ellipticals began their lives far earlier in the history of the Universe. Older ellipticals are nicknamed “red and dead” by astronomers because these bloated galaxies are not anymore producing new, bluer, stars in ages, and are thus packed full of old and redder stellar populations.

Before infirmity sets in, some freshly formed elliptical galaxies experience a final flush of youth, as is the case with NGC 3597. Galaxies smashing together pool their available gas and dust, triggering new rounds of star birth. Some of this material ends up in dense pockets initially called proto-globular clusters, dozens of which festoon NGC 3597. These pockets will go on to collapse and form fully-fledged globular clusters, large spheres that orbit the centres of galaxies like satellites, packed tightly full of millions of stars.

Image and caption: ESA/Hubble & NASA