Wednesday, November 22, 2006

FUZZY PIC OF OLE SAINT NICK?

No, it's not a bleary-eyed shot of Santa after a night out at the North Pole. It's the unusual phenomenon of twin supernovae captured in this image made by NASA's Swift satellite. The host galaxy, NGC 1316 (or Fornax A), a massive elliptical galaxy located some 75 million light years away, is now the most prodigious producer of galactic supernovae yet known.


Why would such an elliptical galaxy produce at least four supernovae in a little over a quarter of a century? That's a tough one. But some astronomers think that at least part of the fireworks may have been stirred up by Fornax A's recent merger with a nearby galactic spiral. Could be, since the galaxy is located on the fringes of the Fornax galaxy cluster in the southern constellation of Fornax (the Furnace). Massive elliptical galaxies are believed to form from the merger of one or more spiral galaxies. The devil remains in the details.


Image: courtesy NASA/Swift/Stefan Immler

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