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

Henize 2-10

A dwarf starburst galaxy about 30 million light years from Earth.Henize 2-10 is a dwarf galaxy, and it is the first dwarf galaxy ever discovered to contain a supermassive black hole at its center. This was surprising because the black hole is about one quarter of the size of the one at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. However, Henize 2-10 is only about1/1,000th the size of the Milky Way..

This image combines x-ray (Chandra), visible light (Hubble), and radio telescope (Very Large Array) views.

Image Credit: NASA / NRAO

Hercules A

Hercules A is the brightest radio source in the constellation of Hercules. Astronomers found that the double-peaked radio emission was centered on a giant elliptical galaxy known as 3C 348. This galaxy is not found within a large cluster of hundreds of galaxies, but rather within a comparatively small group of dozens of galaxies. The active part of the galaxy is the supermassive black hole in its core, sending out strong jets of energetic particles that produce enormous lobes of radio emission. It’s been suggested that Hercules A may be the result of two galaxies merging together.

This video imagines a three-dimensional look at the combined visible light (Hubble Space Telescope) and radio emission (Very Large Array) from Hercules A. The radio lobes dwarf the large galaxy and extends throughout the volume of the surrounding galaxy group. This visualization is only a scientifically reasonable guess of the three-dimensional structures. For example, the galaxy distances within the group are based on a statistical model, and not measured values.

Video Credit: NASA

Black Hole at Work

BlackHolePoweredJetsThis composite image of a galaxy is built up from X-ray data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory (blue), visible light data from Hubble (gold), and radio astronomy data from the Very Large Array (pink). It shows how the intense gravity of a supermassive black hole can be tapped to generate vast amounts of energy.

4C+29.30 is a galaxy located 850 million light years or so from Earth. The radio emissions come from two jets of particles that are speeding outward at thousands of km/s from a supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy. The guesstimated mass of the black hole is on the order of 100,000,000 times our Sun’s. The jets show larger areas of radio emission located outside the galaxy.

The X-ray data show the location of hot gas in the galaxy. The bright X-rays in the center of the image come from a pool of 1,000,000° gas around the black hole. Some of this gas could wind up being eaten by the black hole, and the magnetized, whirlpool of gas near the black hole could, in turn, feed more energy to the radio jet.

Most of the low-energy X-rays from the vicinity of the black hole are absorbed by a doughnut of dust and gas surrounding the black hole. The doughnut blocks the visible light produced near the black hole; astronomers call this type of source as a hidden or buried black hole. The visible light seen in the image is from the stars in the galaxy.

Image Credit: NASA