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Hubble Sees Magestic Magnetic Structure in Erupting Galaxy

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope image of galaxy NGC 1275 reveals fine, thread-like filamentary structures in the gas surrounding the galaxy. The red filaments are composed of cool gas being suspended by a magnetic field, and are surrounded by the 100-million-degree Fahrenheit hot gas in the center of the Perseus galaxy cluster.

The filaments are dramatic markers of the feedback process through which energy is transferred from a central, supermassive black hole to the surrounding gas. The filaments originate when cool gas is transported from the center of the galaxy by radio bubbles that rise in the hot interstellar gas.

Energetic activity of gas swirling near the black hole blows bubbles of material into the surrounding galaxy cluster. Long gaseous filaments stretch out beyond the galaxy, into the X-ray–emitting gas that fills the cluster.

These filaments are the only visible-light manifestation of the intricate relationship between the central black hole and the surrounding cluster gas. They provide important clues about how giant black holes affect their surrounding environment.

Astronomers have resolved individual threads of gas which make up the filaments. The amount of gas contained in a typical thread is around one million times the mass of our own Sun. They are only 200 light-years wide, are often very straight, and extend for up to 20,000 light-years. The filaments are formed when cold gas from the core of the galaxy is dragged out in the wake of the rising bubbles blown by the black hole.

At a distance of 230 million light-years, NGC 1275 is one of the closest giant elliptical galaxies and lies at the center of the Perseus cluster of galaxies.

NGC 1275 was photographed in July and August 2006 with the Advanced Camera for Surveys in three broadband filters that separated blue, green and red light from the galaxy.

Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration
Acknowledgment: A. Fabian (Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge, UK)