For decades, astronomers have observed and studied a lenticular galaxy dubbed NGC 1316. The ripples and loops making up its outer edges were first noticed in the 1970s. They tease of a turbulent past. 40 years later and astronomers are still probing the distant galaxy for answers.
Astronomers love to use the world’s best telescopes to hunt for new cosmic targets. But the better technology also means we can learn more about galaxies we have already seen. A research team used the VLT Survey Telescope (VST) in Chile to peer into the Fornax Cluster, which NGC 1316 is a part of. Here’s one of the images the VST snapped.
The white galaxy near the middle with the wispy clouds around it is NGC 1316. Here’s an annotated view showing the name of several galaxies near it.
At NGC 1316’s heart lies a supermassive black hole with a mass of about 150 million Suns. This huge black hole creates powerful jets of high-energy particles, which can be easily seen at radio wavelengths. The jets are so powerful, NGC 1316 is the fourth-brightest radio source in the entire sky.
But that’s not even the coolest thing about NGC 1316. Astronomers have also observed four type Ia supernovae from the galaxy. The press release describes them as “vitally important astrophysical events for astronomers.” Why? It’s because this type of supernova creates almost the same exact explosion every single time.
Before a type Ia supernova goes boom, it lives its life as a white dwarf in a binary system sucking mass away from its companion. Once the mass of this white dwarf reaches a certain mass, it starts the nuclear fusion of carbon. Soon after, the white dwarf explodes in an incredible supernova display. And because these white dwarfs always go supernova at a specific mass, the explosion is almost identical each time.
With each explosion being identical, astronomers can use them as a kind of cosmic measuring stick. These four type Ia supernovae tell us NGC 1316 sits about 60 million light-years away.
According to the European Southern Observatory, these same supernovae played a major role in the discovery that the Universe is expanding at a faster rate.
Here’s the research paper diving into the hard science of NGC 1316 and the galaxies surrounding it.
Image credits: ESO