Dark Heart of a Cosmic Collision

Infrared and X-ray observations from two space telescopes have been combined to create a unique look at violent events within the giant galaxy Centaurus A. The observations strengthen the view that the galaxy may have been created by the cataclysmic collision of two older galaxies.

The infrared light was captured by the European Space Agency's Herschel Space Observatory, a mission with important NASA contributions. The X-ray observations were made by the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton space telescope.

Centaurus A is the closest giant elliptical galaxy to Earth, at a distance of around 12 million light-years. It stands out because it harbors a massive black hole at its core and emits intense blasts of radio waves.

While previous images taken in visible light hinted at the complex inner structure in Centaurus A, combining the output of two orbiting observatories working at almost opposite ends of the electromagnetic spectrum has revealed the unusual structure in much greater detail.

The galaxy was observed by astronomer Sir John Herschel in 1847 during his survey of the southern skies. Now, more than 160 years later, the observatory bearing his family name has played a unique role in uncovering some of its secrets.

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