31 August 2021
Over 12 million light-years away from us, Centaurus A is one of the closest galaxies to Earth. Its huge dimensions and spectacular brightness add to its ‘proximity’, making the galaxy one of the best studied objects of our skies in the southern hemisphere.
A team of astronomers using the Dark Energy Camera (how cool does that name sound?!) on the Victor M. Blanco Telescope in Chile have taken an amazing picture of our galactic ‘neighbour’. On it, we have an amazing view of the glow of stars and the dark tendrils of dust that hide the bright center of the galaxy.
An ancient collision of galaxies created the dust, as the result of a merger between a giant elliptical galaxy and a smaller, spiral galaxy. But Centaurus A is not all just gas and dust: it is also a star nursery, and we can see that by the bright, red clouds of hydrogen and the faint blue stars at each end of Centaurus A’s dusty lane.
With its 570 megapixels, the Dark Energy Camera is one of the most powerful photo cameras in the world (about 50 times more potent than our average mobile phone!). The image we see is a 10-megapixel slice of the whole picture. Isn’t that amazing?
As Centaurus A is visible with binoculars and telescopes, it is one of the most reliable objects for observation in the Southern hemisphere. Besides its beautiful colours and surrounding dust, the galaxy is also home to a supermassive black hole at its heart.
Image credit: CTIO/NOIRLab/DOE/NSF/AURA. Acknowledgments: PI: M. Soraisam (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign/NSF's NOIRLab). Image processing: T.A. Rector (University of Alaska Anchorage/NSF’s NOIRLab), M. Zamani (NSF’s NOIRLab) & D. de Martin (NSF’s NOIRLab)