NGC 4258 (M106): Galactic Pyrotechnics On Display

©NASA

NGC 4258 (M106)

The Chandra X-ray image reveals huge bubbles of hot gas above and below the plane of the galaxy.

These bubbles indicate that much of the gas that was originally in the disk of the galaxy has been heated to millions of degrees and ejected into the outer regions by the jets from the black hole.

The ejection of gas from the disk by the jets has important implications for the fate of this galaxy. Researchers estimate that all of the remaining gas will be ejected within the next 300 million years &mdsh; very soon on cosmic time scales -- unless it is somehow replenished. Because most of the gas in the disk has already been ejected, less gas is available for new stars to form. Indeed, the researchers used Spitzer data to estimate that stars are forming in the central regions of NGC 4258, at a rate which is about ten times less than in the Milky Way Galaxy.

The European Space Agency's Herschel Space Observatory was used to confirm the estimate from Spitzer data of the low star formation rate in the central regions of NGC 4258. Herschel was also used to make an independent estimate of how much gas remains in the center of the galaxy. After allowing for the large boost in infrared emission caused by the shocks, the researchers found that the gas mass is ten times smaller than had been previously estimated.

Because NGC 4258 is relatively close to Earth, astronomers can study how this black hole is affecting its galaxy in great detail. The supermassive black hole at the center of NGC 4258 is about ten times larger than the one in the Milky Way, and is also consuming material at a faster rate, potentially increasing its impact on the evolution of its host galaxy.

These results were published in the June 20th, 2014 issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters and are available online. The authors are Patrick Ogle, Lauranne Lanz and Philip Appleton from the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, CA.

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages the Chandra program for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass., controls Chandra's science and flight operations.

More information http://chandra.si.edu/photo/2014/m106/

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