CAMBRIDGE, England, Dec. 1 (UPI) -- The informal name for galaxy NGC 4696, the "Brightest Cluster Galaxy," is no joke. The elliptical galaxy outshines its companions -- number in the hundreds -- in the Centaurus galaxy cluster.
But the luminosity of NGC 4696 isn't its most intriguing feature. Astronomers are most interested in the galaxy's dark, thread-like filaments, which swirl about a ethereal, glowing core.
New observations by the Hubble Space Telescope have rendered the filaments of NGC 4696 in remarkable detail, offering scientists a new and improved appreciation for the galaxy's unique structure.
Each dark, dusty filament stretches roughly 200 light-years across and featured concentrations of gas and dust ten times denser than surrounding gas.
The filaments snake outward from the central core like tentacles. Their shape and positioning is influenced by the active supermassive black hole lying at the center of NGC 4696.
Hot gas bubbles outward from this energy source, pulling the dusty filaments along as they diffuse into space. Eventually the filaments loop back toward the black hole and swallowed into the accretion disk.
Astronomers hope further study of the Brightest Cluster Galaxy will help them understand why so many large filamentary and spherical galaxies near the Milky Way fail to generate new stars.