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Centaurus A (NGC 5128)
|Observation data (J2000 epoch)|
|Right ascension||13h 25m 27.6s|
|Declination||-43° 01′ 09″|
|Redshift||547 ± 5 km/s|
|Distance||10-16 Mly (3-5 Mpc)|
|Type||S0 pec or Ep|
|Apparent dimensions (V)||25′.7 × 20′.0|
|Apparent magnitude (V)||6.84|
|Notable features||Unusual dust lane|
|NGC 5128, Arp 153, PGC 46957, 4U 1322-42, Caldwell 77|
Centaurus A (also known as NGC 5128 or Caldwell 77) is a prominent galaxy in the constellation of Centaurus. There is considerable debate in the literature regarding the galaxy's fundamental properties such as its Hubble type (lenticular galaxy or a giant elliptical galaxy) and distance (10-16 million light-years). NGC 5128 is one of the closest radio galaxies to Earth, so its active galactic nucleus has been extensively studied by professional astronomers. The galaxy is also the fifth brightest in the sky, making it an ideal amateur astronomy target, although the galaxy is only visible from low northern latitudes and the southern hemisphere.
The center of the galaxy contains a supermassive black hole with a weight equivalent to 55 million solar masses, which ejects a relativistic jet that is responsible for emissions in the X-ray and radio wavelengths. By taking radio observations of the jet separated by a decade, astronomers have determined that the inner parts of the jet are moving at about one half of the speed of light. X-rays are produced farther out as the jet collides with surrounding gases resulting in the creation of highly energetic particles. The radio jets of Centaurus A are over a million light years long.
Like other starburst galaxies, a collision is suspected to be responsible for the intense burst of star formation. Spitzer Space Telescope studies have confirmed that Centaurus A is colliding with and devouring a smaller spiral galaxy.
Centaurus A may be described as having a peculiar morphology. As seen from Earth, the galaxy looks like a lenticular or elliptical galaxy with a superimposed dust lane. The peculiarity of this galaxy was first identified in 1847 by John Herschel, and the galaxy was included in the Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies (published in 1966) as one of the best examples of a "disturbed" galaxy with dust absorption. The galaxy's strange morphology is generally recognized as the result of a merger between two smaller galaxies.
The bulge of this galaxy is composed mainly of evolved red stars. The dusty disk, however, has been the site of more recent star formation; over 100 star formation regions have been identified in the disk.
One supernova has been detected in Centaurus A. The supernova, named SN 1986G, was discovered within the dark dust lane of the galaxy by R. Evans in 1986. It was later identified as a type Ia supernova, which forms when a white dwarf's mass grows large enough to ignite carbon fusion in its center, touching off a runaway thermonuclear reaction, as may happen when a white dwarf in a binary star system strips gas away from the other star. SN 1986G was used to demonstrate that the spectra of type Ia supernovae are not all identical, and that type Ia supernovae may differ in the way that they change in brightness over time.
Distance estimates to NGC 5128 established since the 1980s typically range between 3-5 Mpc. Classical Cepheids discovered in the heavily-obscured dust lane of NGC 5128 yield a distance between ~3-3.5 Mpc, depending on the nature of the extinction law adopted and other considerations. Mira variables and Type II Cepheids were also discovered in NGC 5128, the latter being rarely detected beyond local group. The distance to NGC 5128 established from several indicators such as Mira variables and planetary nebulae favour a more distant value of ~3.8 Mpc.
Nearby galaxies and galaxy group information
Centaurus A is at the center of one of two subgroups within the Centaurus A/M83 Group, a nearby group of galaxies. Messier 83 (the Southern Pinwheel Galaxy) is at the center of the other subgroup. These two groups are sometimes identified as one group and sometimes identified as two groups. However, the galaxies around Centaurus A and the galaxies around M83 are physically close to each other, and both subgroups appear not to be moving relative to each other. The Centaurus A/M83 Group is located in the Virgo Supercluster.
Amateur astronomy information
Centaurus A is located approximately 4° north of Omega Centauri (a globular cluster visible with the naked eye). Because the galaxy has a high surface brightness and relatively large angular size, it is an ideal target for amateur astronomy observations. The bright central bulge and dark dust lane are visible even in finderscopes and large binoculars, and additional structure may be seen in larger telescopes. Centaurus A is visible to the naked eye under exceptionally good conditions.
The radio galaxy Centaurus A, as seen by ALMA
"Hubble's panchromatic vision... reveals the vibrant glow of young, blue star clusters..."
This image of the central parts of Centaurus A reveals the parallelogram-shaped remains of a smaller galaxy that was absorbed about 200 to 700 million years ago.
The heavily-obscured inner (barred?) spiral disk at 24 μm as shown by the Spitzer IR telescope
A composite image showing the size of the radio glow from the galaxy Centaurus A in comparison to the full Moon.
Video about Centaurus A jets.
"False-colour image of the nearby radio galaxy Centaurus A, showing radio (red), 24-micrometre infrared (green) and 0.5-5 keV X-ray emission (blue). The jet can be seen to emit synchrotron emission in all three wavebands. The lobes only emit in the radio frequency range, and so appear red. Gas and dust in the galaxy emits thermal radiation in the infrared. Thermal X-ray radiation from hot gas and non-thermal emission from relativistic electrons can be seen in the blue 'shells' around the lobes, particularly to the south (bottom)."
- Messier 87 - a giant elliptical galaxy that is also a strong radio source
- NGC 1316 - a similar lenticular galaxy that is also a strong radio source
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- Chandra X-Ray Observatory Photo Album Centaurus A Jet
- Helmut Steinle Centaurus A project
- SEDS: Peculiar Galaxy NGC 5128
- ESA/Hubble images of Centaurus A
- NASA's APOD: The Galaxy Within Centaurus A (3/4/06)
- NASA's APOD: X-Rays from an Active Galaxy (7/5/03)
- High-resolution image of Centaurus A showing the discrete elements of galactic core
- Centaurus A at UniverseToday.com
- NGC5128 Centaurus A
- NGC 5128 at DOCdb (Deep Sky Observer's Companion)
- Centaurus A on WikiSky: DSS2, SDSS, GALEX, IRAS, Hydrogen α, X-Ray, Astrophoto, Sky Map, Articles and images