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Galactic Pyrotechnics on Display (NASA, Chandra, 07/02/14) | by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center
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Galactic Pyrotechnics on Display (NASA, Chandra, 07/02/14)

A galaxy about 23 million light years away is the site of impressive, ongoing fireworks. Rather than paper, powder and fire, this

 

galactic light show involves a giant black hole, shock waves and vast reservoirs of gas.

 

This galactic fireworks display is taking place in NGC 4258, also known as M106, a spiral galaxy like the Milky Way. This galaxy is

 

famous, however, for something that our galaxy doesn’t have – two extra spiral arms that glow in X-ray, optical and radio light. These

 

features, or anomalous arms, are not aligned with the plane of the galaxy, but instead intersect with it.

 

The anomalous arms are seen in this new composite image of NGC 4258, where X-rays from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory are blue, radio

 

data from the NSF’s Karl Jansky Very Large Array are purple, optical data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope are yellow and infrared

 

data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope are red.

 

A new study made with Spitzer shows that shock waves, similar to sonic booms from supersonic planes, are heating large amounts of gas –

 

equivalent to about 10 million suns. What is generating these shock waves? Researchers think that the supermassive black hole at the

 

center of NGC 4258 is producing powerful jets of high-energy particles. These jets strike the disk of the galaxy and generate shock

 

waves. These shock waves, in turn, heat the gas – composed mainly of hydrogen molecules – to thousands of degrees.

 

The Chandra X-ray image reveals huge bubbles of hot gas above and below the plane of the galaxy. These bubbles indicate that much of

 

the gas that was originally in the disk of the galaxy has been heated and ejected into the outer regions by the jets from the black

 

hole.

 

The ejection of gas from the disk by the jets has important implications for the fate of this galaxy. Researchers estimate that all of

 

the remaining gas will be ejected within the next 300 million years – very soon on cosmic time scales – unless it is somehow

 

replenished. Because most of the gas in the disk has already been ejected, less gas is available for new stars to form. Indeed, the

 

researchers used Spitzer data to estimate that stars are forming in the central regions of NGC 4258, at a rate which is about ten times

 

less than in the Milky Way galaxy.

 

The European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory was used to confirm the estimate from Spitzer data of the low star formation

 

rate in the central regions of NGC 4258. Herschel was also used to make an independent estimate of how much gas remains in the center

 

of the galaxy. After allowing for the large boost in infrared emission caused by the shocks, the researchers found that the gas mass is

 

ten times smaller than had been previously estimated.

 

Because NGC 4258 is relatively close to Earth, astronomers can study how this black hole is affecting its galaxy in great detail. The

 

supermassive black hole at the center of NGC 4258 is about ten times larger than the one in the Milky Way and is consuming material at

 

a faster rate, potentially increasing its impact on the evolution of its host galaxy.

 

These results were published in the June 20, 2014 issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters and are available online. The authors are

 

Patrick Ogle, Lauranne Lanz and Philip Appleton from the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California.

 

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Chandra program for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in

 

Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, controls Chandra's science and flight operations.

 

Original caption/more images: www.nasa.gov/chandra/multimedia/galactic-pyrotechnics.html

 

Image credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Caltech/P.Ogle et al; Optical: NASA/STScI; IR: NASA/JPL-Caltech; Radio: NSF/NRAO/VLA

 

Read more about Chandra:

www.nasa.gov/chandra

 

p.s. You can see all of our Chandra photos in the Chandra Group in Flickr at: www.flickr.com/groups/chandranasa/ We'd love to have you as a member!

 

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subject(s) of the photographs. The photographs may not be used in materials, advertisements, products, or promotions that in any way

 

suggest approval or endorsement by NASA. All Images used must be credited. For information on usage rights please visit: www.nasa.gov/audience/formedia/features/MP_Photo_Guidelin...

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Uploaded on July 2, 2014