The Extra Arms of M106


These galactic fireworks are taking place in and around the galaxy known as M106, a spiral galaxy with two extra spiral arms that glow with X-ray, optical, and radio light. These extra arms are not aligned with the plane of the galaxy.

This composite image reveals the oddball arms. X-rays detected by the Chandra X-ray Observatory are blue, radio data from the Very Large Array are purple, optical data from the Hubble Space Telescope are yellow, and infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope are red.

The Spitzer data shows that shock waves are heating a large amount of gas with a mass equivalent to about 10 million suns. The supermassive black hole at the center of M106 is producing powerful jets of high-energy particles. It appears that these jets strike the disk of the galaxy and generate shock waves. Those shock waves, in turn, heat the gas (mostly hydrogen) to thousands of degrees. The Chandra X-ray image reveals huge bubbles of hot gas above and below the plane of the galaxy. The gas was originally in the disk of the galaxy but has been ejected into the outer regions by the jets from the black hole.

The loss of gas from the disk by the jets has important implications for this galaxy’s future. Astronomers estimate that all of the remaining gas will be ejected within the next 300 million years. Because most of the gas in the disk has already been ejected, less gas is available for new stars to form. When all the gas is gone, star formation will come to an end.

Image Credit: ESA / NASA

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