Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

December 4, 1998
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download 
 the highest resolution version available.

Centaurus A: The Galaxy Deep Inside
Credit: ESA/ISO, ISOCAM Team, I. F. Mirabel and O. Laurent (CEA/DSM/DAPNIA), et al.

Explanation: Deep inside Centaurus A, the closest active galaxy to Earth, lies ... another galaxy! Cen A is a giant elliptical galaxy a mere 10 million light-years distant with a central jumble of stars, dust, and gas that probably hides a massive black hole. This composite combines an optical picture of Cen A with dark lines tracing lobes of radio emission and an infrared image from the ISO satellite (in red). The ISO data maps out the dust in what appears to be a barred spiral galaxy about the size of the prominent nearby spiral M33. The discoverers believe that the giant elliptical's gravity helps this barred spiral galaxy maintain its shape. In turn, material funneled along the spiral's bar fuels the central black hole which powers the elliptical's radio lobes. This apparently intimate association between two distinct and dissimilar galaxies suggests a truly cosmic symbiotic relationship.

Tomorrow's picture: Surveyor Hops

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
NASA Technical Rep.: Jay Norris. Specific rights apply.
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