NGC 1316: Swallowing Up Galaxies In Its Path

By Shweta Iyer on April 2, 2014 3:00 PM EDT

ngc 1316
This new image from the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile shows a contrasting pair of galaxies: NGC 1316, and its smaller companion NGC 1317 (right). (Photo: ESO)

NGC 1316, also known as Fornax A, is a radio galaxy and a bright radio source. It is a lenticular galaxy that is intermediate between a spiral and elliptical galaxy. Observations of the NGC 1316 structure reveals a violent history.  The galaxy has some unusual dust lanes embedded within a much larger envelope of stars, and a population of unusually small globular star clusters. These are evidences that the NGC 1316 may have formed due to a major collision with a dust-rich spiral galaxy around 3 billion years ago, acccording to a press release Wednesday. .

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Also, the outer envelope of the galaxy shows the presence of many ripples, loops, and plumes called "tidal" tails. These are believed to be remnants of stars that have been pulled from their original positions and flung into intergalactic space. Such features are observed when a giant galaxy exerts its gravitational force on stars by coming too close. This further proves that the NGC 1316 swallowed other galaxies in the last few billion years, and continues to do so.

NGC 1316 is around 60 million light years away from Earth in the constellation Fornax in the southern sky. Although NGC 1316 lies at the edge, it is the brightest member of the Fornax Cluster, a cluster of 58 galaxies in the Fornax constellation. It also has the distinction of being the fourth brightest radio source in the entire sky. The brightness is due to the radio emissions caused by material falling into the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy. The supermassive black hole was caused due to merger with other galaxies. It is thought to have a mass of 130-150 million of solar masses with gas.

A new image of this galaxy has been captured by the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile. It was then combined with other individual images from the ESO archive to create a more detailed picture. The NGC 1316 was studied to observe minute features and interactions between stars in this galaxy that may gradually evolve to become an unbarred spiral galaxy with a large bulge.

Examining the image, one can also see other distant galaxies that appear as faint spots next to the two bright galaxies. This gives an insight as to what may lie beyond the NGC 1316.

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