A striking new image from the Hubble Space Telescope hasrevealed a strange hook-shaped galaxy tucked amid a field of stars.
The galaxy, dubbed NGC 4696 is an outlier among others ofits type, called ellipticalgalaxies. These are usually roundish, uniform-looking balls of light thatlack the distinctive arms and colors of spiral galaxies. [View the new Hubblephoto.]
Most likely formed by collisions between spiral galaxies,elliptical galaxies experience a brief burst of star formation triggered as theinterstellar dust and gas within them crash into each other. This processquickly leaves the young elliptical galaxies exhausted, without gas supplies toform new stars from. Eventually, the galaxies gradually grow older and fainter.
But NGC 4696isn't just a ball of light; rather, it has a mottled thread of dust that curvesthrough it, creating the hook shape.
This thread is a huge dust lane, around 30,000 light-yearsacross, that sweeps across the face of the galaxy. Viewed at certainwavelengths, strange thin filaments of ionized hydrogen are visible within thegalaxy. In this picture, these structures are visible as a subtle marblingeffect across the galaxy?s bright center.
And the galaxy's surface appearance doesn't even reveal someof its most dramatic aspects. At the heart of NGC 4696, a supermassiveblack hole is thought to be blowing out jets of matter at nearly the speedof light. When viewed in X-ray wavelengths, such as those visible from NASA?sChandra X-ray Observatory, huge voids within the galaxy become visible,telltale signs of these jets' enormous power.
The new photo of NGC 4696 was created from images takenusing Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys. A 5,440-second exposure through ablue filter was combined with a 2,320-second exposure through a near-infraredfilter to create the picture.
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