NGC 1316 is millions of light years away, but the European Space Observatory is still charging it with murder. Astronomers say this recently released image shows physical evidence that the the galaxy has a violent past of disrupting, destroying, and swallowing its neighbors.
By combing photos taken by the La Silla Observatory in Chile, astronomers were able to identify contrasting galaxies NGC 1316 and NGC 1317, both pictured above. NGC 1316 has several obvious visual clues that the European Southern Observatory says indicates a destructive 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.
Given that impressive rap sheet, I’d be pretty stressed out if I were NGC 1317. But citizens of the Milky Way need not be worried — at least, not by this intergalactic threat. NGC 1316 is 60 million light years away in a hellacious-sounding constellation called Fornax, Latin for “the furnace”. So we’re safe! Except from the inevitable “zodiac killer” puns.
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