The Disappearing Threads

A fiery core produces and then sucks in dusty filaments in the NGC 4696 galaxy

Credit: NASA, ESA/Hubble, A. Fabian

An international team of scientists have used the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to explore the filamentary galaxy NGC 4696 in more detail than ever. The galaxy which is located 150 million light-years from Earth and in the constellation of Centaurus has an active supermassive black hole at its core (the shining fiery ball in the centre). The energy emitted from the supermassive black hole heats the gas and sends the heated material outwards causing the thread-like structures to appear.

These dusty thread-like structures or filaments are 200 light-years wide and 10 times more dense than the surrounding gas. They curl inwards and will ultimately be sucked into the supermassive black hole at the centre.

This phenomena may help us understand why so many galaxies near to us in the Universe appear to be dead with old stars instead of forming new stars with the large amounts of dust and gas around. It is possible that galaxy’s magnetic field stops the gas from creating new stars.