PERSEUS-A: GALACTIC DESTRUCTION AT ITS FINEST.
Photo Credit: NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope/Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Very Large Array (NRAO): CLICK photo to view full size and look below for links and information.
This is a combined image of NGC 1275, also known as Perseus-A for its X-ray emitting properties and to live in this star city would be an interesting experience. Located relatively close for a giant elliptical galaxy; 230 million light years away in the northern constellation Perseus situated near the center of the Perseus Cluster of Galaxies.
At the center of this mess is a supermassive black hole that’s tearing the galaxy literally apart. Multi-million degree X-ray emitting gas fills the area while vast filaments stretch out beyond the confines of the galaxy. Each thread of gaseous filament carries with it nearly one million times the mass of the Sun, are about 200 light years wide and stretch over 20,000 light years. Black holes cannot be directly observed thus, these filaments are the only optical light evidence of the black hole interacting with the galaxy. They were caused when the active galactic nucleus; “black hole” blew giant bubbles of relativistic plasma. As those expanded, the cold gas near the galactic core was dragged out into the surrounding cosmos.
It’s been a long standing mystery as to why these filaments have survived the violent forces that the black hole is unleashing on them for over 100 million years. By now, it seems they should have been heated and dissipated or even collapsed under their own gravity and kicked off some star formation. Both “shoulds” in this case are wrong.
Recent study suggests that it’s the galaxies magnetic field which is approximately 1/10,000 the strength of Earths that’s forcing the filaments to hold station by exerting enough force on the ions to keep them together. The structure created by the field also acts as a lattice, or skeleton to prevent the collapse of the filaments as well.
The size of the supermassive black hole is approximately 340 million solar masses and there’s even material in-flowing from the intracluster medium (ICM) of the Perseus Cluster of Galaxies; approximately 13 billion solar masses of molecular hydrogen in fact.
One last point to make; as you look at this photo you may notice that near the center a very distorted but familiar blue colored spiral shape with dust lanes can be seen with the telltale pinkish points of light that denote star formation. This is believed to be a galaxy in the foreground that’s colliding with Perseus-A at nearly 6 million miles per hour.
NAME: NGC 1275, Caldwell 24, 3C 84, Perseus A.
WHAT IS IT?: Type-1 Seyfert Galaxy being torn apart by a supermassive black hole.
HOW BIG IS IT?: 2.5’ X 3’ arcminutes on the night sky or roughly 200,000 light years in diameter.
HOW FAR AWAY IS IT?: Approximately 230 million light years away.
APPARENT MAGNITUDE?: A pretty dim 12.6 or +12.6.
WHERE IS IT? (General): Constellation Perseus, the Hero.
WHERE IS IT? (Exact RA/DEC J2000): R.A. 03h 19m 48s.16 / Dec. +41° 30′ 42″.1.
Hubblesite News Center page for this object: http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/archive/releases/2008/28/image/c/
Hubblesite News Center page for an annotated version of this object: http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/archive/releases/2008/28/image/b/format/web_print/
Chandra X-ray Observatory page for this object: http://chandra.harvard.edu/photo/2008/perseus/
ESA Hubble page for this photo: http://www.spacetelescope.org/images/heic0817b/