Galactic Pyrotechnics From 23 Million Light Years Away


Dec. 31, 2019

Galactic Pyrotechnics From 23 Million Light Years Away

NGC 4258

A galaxy about 23 million light years away is the site of impressive, ongoing fireworks. Rather than paper, powder and fire, this galactic light show involves a giant black hole, shock waves and vast reservoirs of gas.

This galactic fireworks display is taking place in NGC 4258, also known as M106, a spiral galaxy like our own Milky Way. This galaxy is famous, however, for something that our galaxy doesn’t have – two extra spiral arms that glow in X-ray, optical and radio light. These features, or anomalous arms, are not aligned with the plane of the galaxy, but instead intersect with it.

The anomalous arms are seen in this new composite image, where X-rays from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory are blue, radio data from the NSF’s Karl Jansky Very Large Array are purple, optical data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope are yellow and infrared data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope are red.

A new study made with Spitzer shows that shock waves, similar to the sonic booms from supersonic planes, are heating large amounts of gas – equivalent to about 10 million suns. What is generating these shock waves? Researchers think that the supermassive black hole at the center of NGC 4258 is producing powerful jets of high-energy particles. These jets strike the disk of the galaxy and generate shock waves. These shock waves, in turn, heat the gas – composed mainly of hydrogen molecules – to thousands of degrees.

The Chandra X-ray image reveals huge bubbles of hot gas above and below the plane of the galaxy. These bubbles indicate that much of the gas that was originally in the disk of the galaxy has been heated and ejected into the outer regions by the jets from the black hole.

The ejection of gas from the disk by the jets has important implications for the fate of this galaxy. Researchers estimate that all of the remaining gas will be ejected within the next 300 million years – very soon on cosmic time scales – unless it is somehow replenished. Because most of the gas in the disk has already been ejected, less gas is available for new stars to form. Indeed, the researchers used Spitzer data to estimate that stars are forming in the central regions of NGC 4258, at a rate which is about ten times less than in the Milky Way galaxy.

The European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory was used to confirm the estimate from Spitzer data of the low star formation rate in the central regions of NGC 4258. Herschel was also used to make an independent estimate of how much gas remains in the center of the galaxy. After allowing for the large boost in infrared emission caused by the shocks, the researchers found that the gas mass is ten times smaller than had been previously estimated.

Because NGC 4258 is relatively close to Earth, astronomers can study how this black hole is affecting its galaxy in great detail.

Image Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Caltech/P.Ogle et al; Optical: NASA/STScI; IR: NASA/JPL-Caltech; Radio: NSF/NRAO/VLA

Last Updated: Dec. 31, 2019

Editor: Yvette Smith

43 thoughts on “Galactic Pyrotechnics From 23 Million Light Years Away

  1. Happy New year to all.
    Fascinating image, the Hubble’s bit is always most impressive.
    Back closer to home, no fireworks from our own star, however for the first day of the new year there is a new SC25 sunspot
    It is some time now since the last SC24 spot was observed, so it could be said the SC24 appears to be ‘done’.
    December SSN ended with 1.2 on the old Wolf or 1.6 new revised method, while the 2019 non-smoothed number is 2.6 and 3.6 respectively.

    • OT / Since July 2015 only new revised sunspot numbers are published, the old/classic Wolf number not available; an approximate value can be worked out by using relationship between the new and the old relationship defined by y = 1.4077x + 0.695 with R^2 = 0.996, for the period 1945-2015. That’s all ‘fine and dandy’, but the relationship new/old varies up and down quite a bit, the most interesting ‘bit’ is the period of the recent global warming as shown here:
      which surely must be a coincidence.

  2. Does the transmission of shock waves suggest the existence of an either? Is the suggestion that the gas is sufficiently dense as to constitute an atmosphere? Otherwise, without an either how do you transmit shock waves? Pulses of energy, as either particles or photons at elevated energy levels, I can imagine, but shock waves without an either?

    • Accelerate one molecule, that molecule crashes into another accelerating it. That second molecule crashes into a third, and so on.

      That’s how you transmit a shock wave without an ether.
      That’s how it happens in an atmosphere as well.

      • I suppose that it is true that electromagnetic shock waves can happen without the need of molecules. So an ether or atmosphere is not needed since shock waves can be either EMF or of the sound wave type. Both very different.

    • I don’t think “either” means what you think it means. I think the word you want is “ether”. “Either” implies “or”: “You can have EITHER a cat OR a bird–not both.”

  3. To me, it looks more like an image band misalignment. Given the fact that infrared, visible, UV and XRay are all from different telescopes, a rotation error easily slips in. Eg the star cluster at lower left is also visible in the uv image but rotated 30 degrees clockwise.

  4. Wonderful image…that’s what you call an active galaxy! The blue X-ray data is fascinating.

  5. Oops! It’s ether, not either. The existence of an ether, an invisible but real element saturating the universe, seems to be required for some aspects of gravity and quantum mechanics, like spin pairs, to be valid. Gravity has no speed, all matter is somehow in equalibrium with all other matter, requires an ether?

    • Gravity propagates at the speed of light. Ether does not exist, and would cause effects counter to what we observe. Both of these things have been confirmed conclusively by experiment.

      “all matter is somehow in equalibrium [sic] with all other matter”- not even sure what that means.

      • I beg to differ. Aether (the thing that propagates light) was proven not to have a special inertial frame. Thus it was a bad, classical theory. It is difficult to really prove aether nonexistent, just that a kind of aether can’t exist.

        IMO the question of what propagates the EM wave can’t be said to be solved by Michelson Morley experiment often cited to prove this.

        Now I’m open to explanation on how ‘aether’ might have been further disproved afterwards. I don’t seriously doubt that, just that the official story misses important things and gets confusing.

    • You need to keep up with astronomy. The Ether is now called Dark Matter – stuff that has to be there for certain observations to be explained but no-one can find it.

  6. From the article: “This galaxy is famous, however, for something that our galaxy doesn’t have – two extra spiral arms that glow in X-ray, optical and radio light. These features, or anomalous arms, are not aligned with the plane of the galaxy, but instead intersect with it.”

    So can we assume a merger between M106 and another galaxy is taking place? That might explain the additonal arms and the enhanced activity in M106.

    • 25 million years has approximately 7.25*10^14 seconds
      Visible light has wavelength about 1000 times that of X-rays, thus it may be that X-rays are propagating trough the intergalactic filaments (see slightly faster than the visible and the infrared light.
      It is considered that speed of light is 299,792 kilometres/second, if we assume that X-rays are just slightly faster at the magic 300,000 kilometres/second, we could be seeing optical (visible and infrared) image trailing the X rays image by 17500 years .
      As galaxies rotate, their spiral arms usually sweep back, trailing behind the rotation of the galaxy, this would suggest that it rotates anti-clockwise, in which case X-rays image is leading by about 60 (?) degrees.
      The above would suggest that rotation period of this galaxy could around one million years.
      ….. or maybe not.

      • What about the passage of time in the different reference frames due to different gravitational effects on time itself compared to our reference frame and various others involved?

        • … or considering that X rays having wavelength 1000 shorter and being by far more energetic than visible/infrared light may bend less by the presence of large mass concentrations along the trajectory (during the 23 million years passage) and could belong to a different galaxy from approximately the same direction.

          • Vuk,
            right concern there.

            Where and when adding to it the error margin in cosmic distances in question,
            with the possibility of a considerable error there, then the concern could become more significant and requiring a proper consideration, before all there taken for granted, in and as per the aspect of the observation.

            Is far simpler to consider this kind of situation in consideration of error margins.

            In consideration that the cosmic distance in question could be wrong, considerably,
            then any kind of “freaking fracking” show is possible when mending 4 different kind of “scanning” methods in one process.

            Simply, that galaxy distance being considerably wrong, can result in a very exotic super duper fire work product, when utilizing a process that mends many different observation methods and tools in one.

            It is some time that such methods of mending different observation methods, produce anomalies… and still the main focus so far when such happens is all in how this could be patched by relying in the “black hole” universal patch…
            and completely ignoring to consider the possibility of probable errors in the estimation of cosmic distances.

            My guess is that this “condition” will keep escalating and will go from weird to weirder for as long as these clever guys keep treating it simply and only by the means of the “black hole” super duper universal patch.
            At some point becoming totally allergic, when no need for an explanation anymore,
            as it will be very well known…
            it is “black holes” dude. 🙂


  7. Notwithstanding, ionizing and particle radiation emissions, I do hope that Galaxy is zero carbon emission or even carbon free….

    I get the Fe-y of stars exploding and carbon.

  8. Happy New Year, all Y’all!
    What stunningly beautiful galactic image, on a scale the human mind struggles to comprehend!
    What wonders this old Wisconsin farm boy has lived to see….

    More, Please!

  9. “A new study made with Spitzer shows that shock waves, similar to the sonic booms from supersonic planes, are heating large amounts of gas – equivalent to about 10 million suns.”

    Could be worse.

  10. Quite a sight, but I wonder if there are life-filled planets or even civilizations getting extinguished from the violence spreading out from the center. The old Larry Niven “Known-Space” stories was of a galactic-center explosion that was spreading out (unbeknownst to Earth until a much-faster-than-light reconnaissance mission discovered it) and which the whole Puppeteer civilization was fleeing from.

  11. These shock waves, in turn, heat the gas – composed mainly of hydrogen molecules – to thousands of degrees.

    The gas is going to have to be heated far more than a few thousands of degrees to produce X-rays — millions of degrees are required.

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