Twin Galaxies Merge To Form A Giant Butterfly

Posted: Apr 19 2018, 2:50am CDT | by , Updated: Apr 19 2018, 3:41am CDT, in Latest Science News


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Twin Galaxies Merge to Form a Giant Butterfly
Galaxy NGC 6240 as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage

Researchers have completed the dissection of a butterfly-shaped cloud of gas, which is the most tell-tale feature of galaxy NGC 6240

Researchers have witnessed a catastrophic crash of twin galaxies far away and revealed the details of this encounter in an unprecedented manner.

While most galaxies have only one supermassive black at their center, the galaxy called NGC 6240 contains two and these black holes are circling each other in the final stages of merging. Researchers have found that the gases ejected by spiraling black holes along with gases ejected by stars may have shut down the production of new stars in the galaxy NGC 6240 and have also created a massive cloud of gas in the shape of a butterfly, which is the most visible feature of galaxy NGC 6240.

“We dissected the butterfly,” said Müller-Sánchez from the University of Colorado Boulder. “This is the first galaxy in which we can see both the wind from the two supermassive black holes and the outflow of low ionization gas from star formation at the same time."

Galaxies like NGC 6240 have an extremely bright central region called Active Galactic Nuclei (AGNs). Such galaxies are extremely rare and hold a fascination for researchers because they provide a snapshot of an important evolutionary stage of galaxies like our own Milky Way. Researchers believe that these galaxies are created from a collision between two parent galaxies. But they have not seen a butterfly-like structure that stretches about 30,000 light years into space in another galaxy before, leading researchers to believe that NGC 6240 harbors twin hearts.

“Galaxies with a single AGN never show such a phenomenal structure,” Müller-Sánchez said.

When researchers combined observations from three different telescopes, they detected the presence of two distinct forces in the formation of unique feature that resembles a butterfly. The butterfly’s northwest corner is created by stellar winds or gases emitted from the stars, while northeast corner contains a single cone of gas that was ejected by the pair of black holes. The findings are based on the observations of Hubble Space Telescope, the Very Large Telescope in Chile and Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico.

“The data from these three telescopes allowed us to determine the location and velocity of different types of gas in the galaxy,” said co-author Rebecca Nevin. “This helped us uncover two winds – one that is driven by dual supermassive holes, and one that is driven by star formation.”

These two winds are ejecting gases about the mass of 100 Earth’s sun from the galaxy every year, which is higher than the rate at which the galaxy is creating stars in the nuclear region. In other words, black holes and stellar winds are slowing down the process of star formation in the galaxy.

“NGC 6240 is a unique phase of its evolution,” said co-author of the study Julie Comerford. “It is forming stars intensely now, so it needs the extra strong kick of two winds to slow down that star formation and evolved into a less active galaxy.”

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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