Tranquil-Looking Galaxy Bears ‘Battle Scars’ From Ancient Struggles

Shining 60 million light-years away all serene-looking is NGC 1316 (left) and a smaller galaxy NGC 1317. This new picture from the European Southern Observatory’s La Silla Observatory in Chile, however, reveals “battle scars” of ancient fights, the observatory stated.

“Several clues in the structure of NGC 1316 reveal that its past was turbulent. For instance, it has some unusual dust lanes embedded within a much larger envelope of stars, and a population of unusually small globular star clusters. These suggest that it may have already swallowed a dust-rich spiral galaxy about three billion years ago,” the European Southern Observatory stated.

“Also seen around the galaxy are very faint tidal tails — wisps and shells of stars that have been torn from their original locations and flung into intergalactic space. These features are produced by complex gravitational effects on the orbits of stars when another galaxy comes too close. All of these signs point to a violent past during which NGC 1316 annexed other galaxies and suggest that the disruptive behavior is continuing.”

You might better known NGC 1316 as Fornax A, the brightest radio source in the constellation Fornax and the fourth-brightest source in the sky. This is due to its supermassive black hole sucking up material in the area — and could actually be stronger because of the close encounters with other galaxies.

This image is a composite of archival pictures from the telescope. If you look closely, you can spot some fainter galaxies in the background, too.

Source: ESO

Pink Galactic Smackdown Results in Cosmic Bulls-eye

Bright pink nebulae encircle spiral galaxy NGC 922 in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: NASA/ESA. Zoom: John Williams/TerraZoom and Zoomify

Galaxies pack a wallop. A galactic bulls-eye ringed with pink nebulae is the only evidence of a rare galactic collision of NGC 922 that occurred millions of years ago. Clicking the button on the far right of the toolbar will allow awesomecosmicsauce to tantalize your eyes and work all of the pixels on your computer screen. Pressing the “ESC” will return you to the present universe.

Explore this awesome image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. While lovely, something is amiss in this image. NGC 922 used to be a spiral galaxy. As you zoom across the image, the spiral arms look distorted and disrupted. Hints of a galactic interaction are strewn across the galaxy from the large numbers of bright pink nebulae and blue stars to the spray of dim stars toward the top of the image. Ripples set up as the smaller galaxy passed through the gas and dust clouds of NGC 922 created new star formation. Ultraviolet radiation from these bright new stars cause hydrogen gas in the surrounding nebula to glow a characteristic pink. The tugs of gravity hurled thousands of stars outward.

Episode 60 of the Hubblecast explores NGC 922, a galaxy that has been hit square-on by another. Ripples of star-formation are still propagating out across thousands of light-years of space over 300 million years after the collision, making it a prime example of what astronomers call a collisional ring galaxy.

Scientists believe that millions of years ago a small galaxy, known as 2MASXI J0224301-244443, plunged through the heart of NGC 922. Sometimes, if a small galaxy hits a larger galaxy just right, a circle is formed. But more often than not, galaxies are not aligned perfectly. When a galaxy smacks another off center, one side of the ring is brighter than the other. NGC 922 is a prime example of what astronomers call collisional ring galaxies. Although only a few ring galaxies are seen in our cosmic neighborhood, of which the Cartwheel Galaxy is the most spectacular, ring galaxies appear to be commonplace as we peer further into the past.

As you explore the empty places of the image, look for faraway background galaxies. Several dim spiral galaxies dot the image both outside the galaxy and within the star-speckled interior.

NGC 922 is found about 330 million light-years from Earth toward the constellation Fornax. Sky mapper and French astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille introduced Fornax, the Furnace, in 1756. Fornax is relatively devoid of stars allowing astronomers to peer deep into the universe. The constellation was the perfect target for the Hubble Ultra Deep Field image.

NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image of NGC 922. Credit: NASA, ESA

Source: ESA Hubble

Digging Deeper For Dark Matter

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Dark matter… If it can’t be seen, then how do we know it’s there? If it wasn’t for the effects of gravity, we wouldn’t. We’d have a galaxy filled with runaway stars and no galaxy would exist for long. But how it behaves and how it is distributed in one of the biggest cosmic cryptograms of all. Even with new research, there seems to be more questions than answers!

“After completing this study, we know less about dark matter than we did before,” said lead author Matt Walker, a Hubble Fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

It is generally accepted that our Universe is predominately composed of dark matter and dark energy. Of the former, it is considered to be “cold”, stately exotic particles which coalesce through gravitation. As they evolve, these dark matter “clumps” then attract “normal” matter which forms present day galaxy structures. Through computer modeling, astronomers have simulated this growth process which concludes that galactic centers should be dense with dark matter. However, these models aren’t consistent with findings. By measuring two dwarf galaxies, scientists have found a even distribution instead.

“Our measurements contradict a basic prediction about the structure of cold dark matter in dwarf galaxies. Unless or until theorists can modify that prediction, cold dark matter is inconsistent with our observational data,” Walker stated.

Why study a dwarf instead of a spiral? In this case, the dwarf galaxy is a perfect candidate because of its composition – 99% dark matter and 1% stars. Walker and his co-author Jorge Penarrubia (University of Cambridge, UK) chose two nearby representatives – the Fornax and Sculptor dwarfs – for their study. In comparison to the Milky Way’s estimated 400 billion stars, this pair averages around 10 million instead. This allowed the team to take a comprehensive sample of around 1500 to 2500 stars for location, speed and basic chemical composition. But even at a reduced amount, this type of stellar accounting isn’t exactly easy picking.

“Stars in a dwarf galaxy swarm like bees in a beehive instead of moving in nice, circular orbits like a spiral galaxy,” explained Penarrubia. “That makes it much more challenging to determine the distribution of dark matter.”

What the team found was somewhat surprising. According to the modeling techniques, dark matter should have clumped at the core. Instead they found it evenly distributed over a distance measuring several hundred light years across.

“If a dwarf galaxy were a peach, the standard cosmological model says we should find a dark matter ‘pit’ at the center. Instead, the first two dwarf galaxies we studied are like pitless peaches,” said Penarrubia.

It is hypothesized that interactions between normal and dark matter might be responsible for the distribution, but the computer simulations say it shouldn’t happen to a dwarf. New queries to new findings? Yes. This revelation may suggest that dark matter isn’t always “cold” and that it could be impacted by normal matter in unexpected ways.

Original Story Source: Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics News Release. For Further Reading: A Method Of Measuring (Slopes Of) the Mass Profiles of Dwarf Spheroidal Galaxies.