NASA GSFC Fermi - 2010 Apr 01
If our eyes could see radio waves, the nearby galaxy Centaurus A (Cen A) would be one of the biggest and brightest objects in the sky, nearly 20 times the apparent size of a full moon. What we can't see when looking at the galaxy in visible light is that it lies nestled between a pair of giant radio-emitting gas plumes ejected by its supersized black hole. Each plume is nearly a million light-years long.
NASA's Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope maps gamma rays, radiation that typically packs 100 billion times the energy of radio waves. Nevertheless, and to the surprise of many astrophysicists, Cen A's plumes show up clearly in the satellite's first 10 months of data. The study appears in Thursday's edition of Science Express.
Fermi's Large Area Telescope resolved high-energy gamma rays from an extended region around the active galaxy Centaurus A. The emission corresponds to million-light-year-wide radio-emitting gas thrown out by the galaxy's supersized black hole. This inset shows an optical/gamma-ray composite of the galaxy and its location on the Fermi one-year sky map. (NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration, Capella Observatory)
The giant elliptical galaxy NGC 5128, show here in visible light, hosts the radio source known as Centaurus A. Located 12 million light-years away, it is one of the closest active galaxies. (Capella Observatory)
The gamma-ray output from Cen A's lobes exceeds their radio output by more than ten times. High-energy gamma rays detected by Fermi's Large Area Telescope are depicted as purple in this gamma ray/optical composite of the galaxy. (NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration, Capella Observatory)
It takes the addition of radio data (orange) to fully appreciate the scale of Cen A's giant radio-emitting lobes, which stretch more than 1.4 million light-years. Gamma-rays from Fermi's Large Area Telescope (purple) and an image of the galaxy in visible light are also included in this composite. (NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration, Capella Observatory, and Ilana Feain, Tim Cornwell, and Ron Ekers (CSIRO/ATNF), R. Morganti (ASTRON), and N. Junkes (MPIfR))
Fermi Gamma-Ray Imaging of a Radio Galaxy
- The Fermi-LAT Collaboration
Science DOI: 10.1126/science.1184656