Distant swirling galaxy dwarfed by violent star killer

ALL FED UP  NGC 1316 (left) has become the giant monster it is today because of collisions with other galaxies. 


Sixty million light-years from Earth in the Fornax constellation, two neighboring galaxies have very different histories. The smaller galaxy, NGC 1317 (right), is an unremarkable spiral, not much different from the Milky Way. Its neighbor galaxy NGC 1316 has a more sordid past: It’s a cannibal.

In this mosaic of images from the 2.2-meter telescope at La Silla Observatory in Chile, dark dust lanes and twisting tails betray a history of galactic collisions that have built NGC 1316 into the monster it is today. Streams of dust in the core are all that remain of a spiral galaxy torn apart by NGC 1316’s gravity roughly 3 billion years ago. Around the edges of the galaxy, faint wisps of stars hurled into intergalactic space preserve the record of a lifetime of collisions.

With each collision, gas and dust feed a supermassive black hole in the core of NGC 1316 that weighs about as much as 150 million suns. Blasts of energy from the tempest swirling around the black hole make NGC 1316 one of the brightest sources of radio waves in the sky. 

Christopher Crockett is an Associate News Editor. He was formerly the astronomy writer from 2014 to 2017, and he has a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.

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