HomeScience and ResearchSpaceAstronomers share a colorful image of Centaurus A

Astronomers share a colorful image of Centaurus A

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It is one of the brightest objects in the southern hemisphere’s night sky, 13 million light-years from Earth.

The Dark Energy Camera mounted on the Victor M. Blanco 4-meter Telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile captured a stunning image of the galaxy Centaurus A.

This galaxy’s unusual appearance – shrouded in dark tendrils of dust – is the result of a collision with another galaxy, and its size and proximity to Earth make it one of the most studied big galaxies in the night sky.

The galaxy Centaurus A is located over 12 million light-years away in the direction of the southern hemisphere constellation Centaurus (The Centaur). This image depicts the dazzling glow of stars and the black tendrils of dust that obscure the galaxy’s bright nucleus. This dust is the product of a galactic collision in the distant past, in which a massive elliptical galaxy collided with a smaller spiral galaxy. Along with abundant gas and dust, Centaurus A’s dust lane is a hotbed of star formation, as evidenced by the red clouds of hydrogen and the vast number of weak blue stars visible at each end of the dust lane.

Centaurus A is one of the most studied objects in the southern hemisphere night sky due to its proximity and brightness — it is one of the closest massive galaxies to Earth. Since its discovery in 1826, astronomers have examined the galaxy extensively using a range of different telescopes, discovering an array of fascinating properties. Radio telescopes have discovered a massive jet of stuff erupting from the galaxy’s centre. Centaurus A’s supermassive black hole accelerates this jet to nearly half the speed of light, and its intense radio emissions make this galaxy one of the most prominent radio emitters in the night sky. Indeed, in July 2021, the Event Horizon Telescope captured a jet erupting from Centaurus A’s black hole, which is 55 million times the mass of the Sun.

Centaurus A is a reliable target for southern-hemisphere amateur astronomers, with its bright bulge and dark dust lane visible with binoculars or small telescopes. This image, however, shows a 10-megapixel subsection of the full 570-megapixel Dark Energy Camera (DECam), which is mounted on the Víctor M. Blanco 4-meter Telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) in Chile. One of the highest-performance, wide-field CCD imagers in the world, DECam was designed specifically for the Dark Energy Survey and was operated by the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) between 2013 and 2019. DECam was funded by the DOE and was built and tested at DOE’s Fermilab. At present the Dark Energy Camera is used for programs covering a huge range of science.

This image was obtained by astronomer Monika Soraisam (now at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) as part of a long-term monitoring campaign (between 2018 and 2021) to identify variable objects on timescales from hours to years (novae, long-period variables) in prominent galaxies in the southern hemisphere. The campaign has been conducted as a pathfinder to Vera C. Rubin Observatory’s Legacy Survey of Space and Time.

The analysis of data from the Dark Energy Survey is supported by DOE and the NSF, and the DECam science archive is curated by the Community Science and Data Center (CSDC) at NSF’s NOIRLab. CTIO and CSDC are Programs of NOIRLab.

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