Potocnik captures image of twisted spiral galaxy
14 Novembre 2007
On a visit to the European Southern Observatory (ESO), the EU’s Science and Research Commissioner captured a new image of a nearby spiral galaxy called NCG-134.
‘Two hours bus ride from the nearest town, Antofagasta, in the middle of nowhere and at 2,600 m altitude, rises a state of the art astronomical observatory at which scientists from across
Europe venture to exploit some of the most advanced technologies and sophisticated techniques available within astronomy,’ writes the Commissioner in his blog.
‘One of the facilities is the VLT, the Very Large Telescope, with which, together with the other telescopes, scientists can study objects at the far edge of the Universe. I myself was able to
identify and name my very own galaxy! And who knows when, with today’s top scientists and infrastructures, we will be able to discover whether we are alone in the Universe or whether my galaxy
holds secrets yet unknown…,’ he added.
On a visit to the Observatory in Chile, Mr Potocnik looked through the Very Large Telescope (VLT) to observe the ‘Island in the Universe’. Whilst similar to our own galaxy, the NCG-134 spiral
galaxy has a far more pronounced warped disc.
‘While a galaxy’s disc is often pictured as a flat structure of gas and stars surrounding the galaxy’s centre, a warped disc is a structure that, when viewed sideways, resembles a bent record
album left out too long in the burning Sun,’ say ESO astronomers.
Whilst the exact cause of the warps, found in half of all known spiral galaxies, remains unknown, many theories seek to explain them. One possibility is that warps are the aftermath of a
collision with another galaxy. These types of encounters are known to leave trails of material as the two galaxies pull apart again.
The VLT image reveals that NCG-134 does have a ‘tail of gas stripped from the top edge of its disc’, say the researchers.
‘So did NGC 134 have a striking encounter with another galaxy in the past? Or is some other galaxy out there exerting a gravitational pull on it? This is a riddle astronomers need to solve,’
The image recently captured on ESO’s VLT by the visiting EU Commissioner also shows the galaxy has some star-forming regions, shown as red in the image, full of ionised hydrogen gas.
NGC 134 was discovered by Sir John Herschel at the Cape of Good Hope and is located in the Sculptor southern constellation. The galaxy is located about 60 million light-years away, when the
light that was captured by the VLT originally left the galaxy. This was a dramatic episode of mass extinction that led to the disappearance of dinosaurs on Earth, paving the way for the
appearance of mammals and later humans.