Astronomers Release Image Of "Serial Killer" Galaxy

The European Southern Observatory has released a detailed image of galaxy NGC 1316, which has engulfed several other galaxies in its violent history... and has the battle scars to prove it.

The image — created by combining several individual photos taken by a 2.2-meter telescope in Chile — shows NGC 1316 alongside a small spiral galaxy, NGC 1317. But whereas NGC 1317 has led an uneventful life, several clues in the structure of its neighbor reveal its malevolent past:

It has some unusual dust lanes embedded within a much larger envelope of stars, and a population of unusually small globular star clusters. These suggest that it may have already swallowed a dust-rich spiral galaxy about three billion years ago.

Also seen around the galaxy are very faint tidal tails — wisps and shells of stars that have been torn from their original locations and flung into intergalactic space. These features are produced by complex gravitational effects on the orbits of stars when another galaxy comes too close. All of these signs point to a violent past during which NGC 1316 annexed other galaxies and suggest that the disruptive behavior is continuing.

There's no need for denizens of the Milky Way to worry, though, because Galactus NGC 1316 is 60 million light-years away, in the southern part of a constellation appropriately named Fornax, which is Latin for "The Furnace."

Source: European Southern Observatory.