Chandra Sheds Light on Galaxy Collision

Mar 29, 2007
Chandra Sheds Light on Galaxy Collision
Image credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ. of Bristol/Worral et al.; Radio: NRAO/AUI/NSF

Astronomers think that there are enormous black holes at the centers of most, if not all, galaxies. These black holes, which can be millions or even billions of times more massive than the Sun, can greatly affect the galaxy and the environments around them.

One way such black holes shape their surroundings is by generating powerful jets of high-energy particles. The jets, which are bright in radio waves, have been seen to push around the hot gas that envelopes the galaxy. When this happens, astronomers can detect huge cavities and powerful shock fronts in the hot, X-ray emitting gas.

However, the opposite scenario is apparently unfolding in the galaxy known as 3C442A. X-ray data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and radio observations from the NSF's Very Large Array show that the hot gas (blue) in the middle of 3C442A is pushing apart the radio-bright gas (orange). The inner sections of the radio structure are sharp and concave, which is consistent with the idea that the X-ray bright gas is sweeping the radio-emitting gas aside. This is the first convincing evidence for such a role reversal.

A team of scientists, led by Diana Worrall of University of Bristol, UK, has studied this system and determined why the dynamics in 3C442A seem to be topsy-turvy. First, there are two galaxies near the middle of 3C442A which are in the process of merging. These two galaxies are on their second pass toward a collision, having already experienced a close encounter. The energy generated from this impending merger is heating the combined atmospheres from these two galaxies, causing them to shine brightly in X-rays and expand.

The researchers determined that the jets that had produced the lobes of radio-emitting gas are no longer active. The jets may have ceased at the time of, and possibly as a result of, the galaxy collision. Since the radio-emitting gas no longer has a power source, it is then at the mercy of the expanding hot gas and has been pushed aside.

Source: NASA

Explore further: Short, sharp shocks let slip the stories of supernovae

Related Stories

Telescopes give shape to furious black hole winds

Feb 19, 2015

NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) and ESA's (European Space Agency) XMM-Newton telescope are showing that fierce winds from a supermassive black hole blow outward in all directions—a ...

Recommended for you

Hubble observes one-of-a-kind star nicknamed 'Nasty'

May 21, 2015

Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have uncovered surprising new clues about a hefty, rapidly aging star whose behavior has never been seen before in our Milky Way galaxy. In fact, the star is ...

Galaxy's snacking habits revealed

May 20, 2015

A team of Australian and Spanish astronomers have caught a greedy galaxy gobbling on its neighbours and leaving crumbs of evidence about its dietary past.

Supernova ignition surprises scientists

May 20, 2015

Scientists have captured the early death throes of supernovae for the first time and found that the universe's benchmark explosions are much more varied than expected.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.