Nearby galaxy called cosmic 'cannibal'

April 4, 2012 at 6:42 PM
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LONDON, April 4 (UPI) -- Astronomers say two European Space Agency space observatories have offered new views of the mysterious galaxy Centaurus A and uncovered its cannibalistic past.

Centaurus A is the closest large elliptical galaxy to our own Milky Way at about 12 million light years distance, discovered in the 19th century but hiding many of its secrets until now, scientist say.

Streaming from its core are two massive jets of material blasting out from a massive black hole in the galaxy's heart, as detected by the Herschel and XMM-Newton space observatories.

"Centaurus A is the closest example of a galaxy to us with massive jets from its central black hole," Christine Wilson of McMaster University in Canada, said in a release from the United Kingdom Space Agency. "Observations with Herschel, XMM-Newton and telescopes at many other wavelengths allow us to study their effects on the galaxy and its surroundings."

A think band of dust lies across the center of Centaurus A, an unusual feature for an elliptical galaxy, astronomers said.

Observations provide strong evidence that Centaurus A underwent a cosmic collision with another galaxy in the distant past, researchers said, ripping apart and consuming much of the colliding galaxy and leaving its remnant as the warped disk of dust seen by the space telescopes.

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