Science & Tech

X-ray arcs tell tale of giant eruption

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Discovery can help astronomers better understand violent outbursts

Scientists from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) report that two arc-like structures of multimillion-degree gas in the galaxy Centaurus A appear to be part of a ring 25,000 light years in diameter. The size and location of the ring suggest that it could have been produced in a titanic explosion that occurred about 10 million years ago. A composite image of the galaxy made with radio (red and green), optical (yellow-orange), and X-ray data (blue) presents a stunning tableau of a tumultuous galaxy. A broad band of dust and cold gas is bisected at an angle by opposing jets of high-energy particles blasting away from the supermassive black hole in the nucleus. Lying in a plane perpendicular to the jets are the two large arcs of X-ray emitting hot gas. “Putting all the images together was the key to understanding what Chandra showed,” said Margarita Karovska, lead author on a paper in the September 20, 2002, issue of The Astrophysical Journal. “Suddenly it all clicked in, as with a giant puzzle, and the images fit together to make a complete picture of the galaxy geometry that was not at all apparent before.”