Hubble's spy diaries: Breathtaking megamaser galaxy becomes space telescope's latest subject!
IRAS 16399-0937, as the megamaser galaxy has been named, is located over 370 million light-years from Earth.
New Delhi: Ever since its launch in space in 1990, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has delivered stunning insights into galaxies and stars delving deep into their structure and evolution.
Hubble has helped scientists in more than ways than one, to reach out into the depths of the universe and discover numerous things that would have otherwise, been impossible, some of which, have turned out to be massive revelations.
Giving an informative insight into the evolution of the universe, Hubble has once again beamed back a stunner – a megamaser hosting galaxy!
Explaining this in detail, NASA says megamasers are intensely bright, around 100 million times brighter than the masers found in galaxies like the Milky Way. The entire galaxy essentially acts as an astronomical laser that beams out microwave emission rather than visible light (hence the ‘m’ replacing the ‘l’).
Being a process, megamasers involve some components within the galaxy (like gas) that is in the right physical condition to cause the amplification of light (in this case, microwaves). But there are other parts of the galaxy (like stars for example) that aren’t part of the maser process.
IRAS 16399-0937, as the megamaser galaxy has been named, is located over 370 million light-years from Earth. The image of the galaxy delivered by Hubble fails to justify the galaxy’s true, energetic nature, portraying it as a beautiful and serene cosmic rosebud, instead.
According to NASA, NICMOS’s superb sensitivity, resolution, and field of view gave astronomers the unique opportunity to observe the structure of IRAS 16399-0937 in detail. They found it hosts a double nucleus — the galaxy’s core is thought to be formed of two separate cores in the process of merging. The two components, named IRAS 16399N and IRAS 16399S for the northern and southern parts respectively, sit over 11,000 light-years apart. However, they are both buried deep within the same swirl of cosmic gas and dust and are interacting, giving the galaxy its peculiar structure.
The nuclei are very different. IRAS 16399S appears to be a starburst region, where new stars are forming at an incredible rate. IRAS 16399N, however, is something known as a LINER nucleus (Low Ionization Nuclear Emission Region), which is a region whose emission mostly stems from weakly-ionized or neutral atoms of particular gases. The northern nucleus also hosts a black hole with some 100 million times the mass of the sun, the Amercian space agency reported.