May 17, 2012 — Located 12 million light-years away, the enormous elliptical galaxy Centaurus A is one of the brightest radio objects in the sky — making astronomers believe its heart harbors a supermassive black hole 100 million times the mass of our sun. This, combined with a curved s-shaped lane of dark gas and dust obscuring the galaxy's center, indicates that Centaurus A is the remains of a collision between two galaxies.
This image, created from over 50 hours of exposure time by the European Southern Observatory's 2.2-meter MPG/ESO telescope at its La Silla Observatory in Chile, is the deepest view ever into Centaurus A. The galaxy's elliptical shape can be discerned in the oval glow of hundreds of billions of stars that gradually fades away, making the dark, ragged belt of gas and dust seem out of place.
It's thought that the dark gas is what's left over of a spiral galaxy that's being ripped apart by Centaurus A.
In the upper left portion of the image a line of bright purple and blue points can be seen; this is the result of a jet that's being shot out from the black hole at the elliptical galaxy's center. Hot young stars are forming within the filament, which lies about 30,000 light-years from the heart of the galaxy. An even more distant filament can be made out near the upper left corner.
In addition to the star-forming structure of these jets, more than 200 new variable stars were discovered with these observations.
-- by Jason Major.