Astronomers have identified the vivid scar of a cosmic catastrophe: a blue arc thousands of light years long produced when a galaxy pulled in a smaller satellite galaxy and tore it apart.
Visible in the upper right corner of this image of the Centaurus A Galaxy is an arc of blue stars left behind when Centaurus A pulled in a smaller galaxy and tore it apart. Astronomers say the scar from this cosmic collision is fairly new and thousands of light years long.
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Photo by Eric Peng/JHU/NOAO
The streak is composed of clusters of young blue stars that formed as the larger galaxy, Centaurus A, absorbed the smaller galaxy about 200 million to 400 million years ago. Researchers will report in the December Astronomical Journal that their discovery suggests absorption of smaller galaxies may be a significant contributor to the formation of galactic halos, outer perimeters of galaxies where star populations are sparse.
"This adds a nice example in the local universe to the growing evidence that galaxy halos are built up from the accretion of dwarf satellite galaxies," said Eric Peng, a graduate student in astronomy in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at The Johns Hopkins University and lead author of the new paper. "These halos are interesting partly because theyre hard to study, but also because time scales for things to happen in halos are very long, which means they may preserve conditions that reveal how a galaxy formed and evolved."
Michael Purdy | EurekAlert!
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