An artists impression of the core of NGC 1068 as seen from earth.
© Gemini Observatory
Astronomers shoot first film of the stars, dust and gas at the centre of a galaxy.
Astronomers have made their first movie of the roiling mass of stars, dust and gas at the centre of a galaxy.
The movie zooms into the disk of saucer-shaped galaxy NGC 1068 and through its super-bright core. It reveals an energetic region of space created by material flying out of the suspected black hole at the centre and crashing back into the disk. This region appears as a pale blue cloud far from the centre.
The same galaxy was recently studied with the Hubble space telescope1. But Hubble can only record how matter is moving along a very narrow slice of a galaxy - albeit at very high resolution.
Hubble sees where matter is by measuring the brightness of light along a slit. The light’s wavelengths can also tell astronomers whether the matter producing the light is moving towards or away from us.
GMOS coupled with IFU uses this same technique but over a whole galaxy. "Large ground-based telescopes like Gemini are the perfect complement to Hubble because they collect so much more light," says Gerald Cecil, an astronomer at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill who carried out the Hubble measurements.
An image of the galaxy from the Gemini telescope is focused on an array of fibre-optic cables thinner than a human hair. Each of these records a slit of light from part of the image. Combining these gives a series of three-dimensional pictures from which an animation can be constructed.
TOM CLARKE | © Nature News Service
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