Centaurus A

Last updated on 9 August 2017

Centaurus A or NGC 5128 is a galaxy in the constellation of Centaurus. It was discovered in 1826 by Scottish astronomer James Dunlop from his home in Parramatta, in New South Wales, Australia. 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)[9] and distance (10–16 million light-years).[2][3][4][5][6] NGC 5128 is one of the closest radio galaxies to Earth, so its active galactic nucleus has been extensively studied by professional astronomers.[12] The galaxy is also the fifth-brightest in the sky,[12] making it an ideal amateur astronomy target,[13] 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 mass equivalent to 55 million solar masses,[14] 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 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 X-ray jets of Centaurus A are thousands of light-years long, while the radio jets are over a million light-years long.[15]

Like other starburst galaxies, a collision is suspected to be responsible for the intense burst of star formation. Models have suggested that Centaurus A was a large elliptical galaxy which collided and merged with a smaller spiral galaxy.[16]

ESO Centaurus A LABOCA.jpg
ESO Centaurus A LABOCA.jpg


NGC 5128 was discovered on 29 April 1826 by James Dunlop during a survey at the Parramatta Observatory.[17]

In 1847 John Herschel described the galaxy as "two semi-ovals of elliptically formed nebula appearing to be cut asunder and separated by a broad obscure band parallel to the larger axis of the nebula, in the midst of which a faint streak of light parallel to the sides of the cut appears."[18]

In 1949 John Gatenby Bolton, Bruce Slee and Gordon Stanley localize NGC 5128 as one of the first extragalactical radio sources.[19] Five years later, Walter Baade and Rudolph Minkowski suggested that the peculiar structure is the result of a merge event of a giant elliptical galaxy and a small spiral galaxy.[20] The first detection of X-ray emissions, using a sounding rocket, was performed in 1970.[21] In 1975–76 gamma-ray emissions from Centaurus A were observed through the atmospheric Cerenkov technique.[22]

The Einstein Observatory detected an X-ray jet emanating from the nucleus in 1979[23] Ten years later, young blue stars were found along the central dust band with the Hubble Space Telescope.[24]

The Chandra X-ray Observatory identified in 1999 more than 200 new point sources.[25] Another space telescope, the Spitzer Space Telescope, found a parallelogram-shaped structure of dust in near infrared images of Centaurus A in 2006.[26]

Evidence of gamma emissions with very high energy (more than 100 GeV) was detcted by the H.E.S.S-Observatorium in Namibia in 2009.[27]

The following year, Centaurus A was identified as a source of cosmic rays of highest energies, after years of observations by Pierre Auger Observatory.[28] In 2016 a review of data from Chandra and XMM-Newton, unusual high flares of energy were found in NGC 5128 and its nearby galaxy NGC 4636. Jimmy Erwin of University of Alabama hypothesized the discovery as potentially a black hole in a yet unknown process or an intermediate-mass black hole.[29]


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.[30] The peculiarity of this galaxy was first identified in 1847 by John Herschel, and the galaxy was included in Halton Arp's Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies (published in 1966) as one of the best examples of a "disturbed" galaxy with dust absorption.[31] The galaxy's strange morphology is generally recognized as the result of a merger between two smaller galaxies.[32]

Zoom movie of the galaxy Centaurus A, showing different aspects of the galaxy in several wavelengths.
Schematic diagram of the components of the Centaurus A galaxy

The bulge of this galaxy is composed mainly of evolved red stars.[30] The dusty disk, however, has been the site of more recent star formation;[12] over 100 star formation regions have been identified in the disk.[33]


Two supernovae have been detected in Centaurus A.[34] The first supernova, named SN 1986G, was discovered within the dark dust lane of the galaxy by R. Evans in 1986.[35] It was later identified as a Type Ia supernova,[36] 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.[36]

The second supernova, a type IIb dubbed SN2016adj,[37] was discovered by Backyard Observatory Supernova Search in February 2016.[38]


Distance estimates to NGC 5128 established since the 1980s typically range between 3–5 Mpc.[2][3][4][5][6][39] 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.[4][5] Mira variables[39] and Type II Cepheids[4][5] were also discovered in NGC 5128, the latter being rarely detected beyond the Local Group.[40] 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.[9][6]

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.[41] Messier 83 (the Southern Pinwheel Galaxy) is at the center of the other subgroup. These two groups are sometimes identified as one group[42][43] and sometimes identified as two groups.[44] 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.[45] The Centaurus A/M83 Group is located in the Virgo Supercluster.


Radio waves

Overview over the radio structure of Centaurus A. The range of the structures observable with radio waves is impressive: The whole radio emitting region extends about 1.8 million light years (about 8° degrees in the sky). Through observations with the VLBI technique structures of the jet and the core smaller than a light year could be resolved (corresponding to a resolution of 0.68 x 0.41 milli-arcseconds.[46])
This view of the jets of Centaurus A was created through observations in radio waves with a wavelength of 20 cm with the VLA. The position of the radio jet and the knots within the jets matches very well with the structures seen in the x-ray jet. This region of the jet is named „Inner Lobe“.[47]


The giant elliptical galaxy Centaurus A (NGC 5128) and its strange globular clusters.jpg
Elliptical galaxy Centaurus A and its strange globular clusters[48]

Centaurus A is located approximately 4° north of Omega Centauri (a globular cluster visible with the naked eye).[13] 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,[13] and additional structure may be seen in larger telescopes.[13] Centaurus A is visible to the naked eye under exceptionally good conditions.[49]


Centaurus A halo.jpg

Centaurus A halo

Radio galaxy Centaurus A by ALMA.jpg

The radio galaxy Centaurus A, as seen by ALMA

NGC 5128 galaxy.jpg

Image taken by the Wide Field Imager attached to the MPG/ESO 2.2-meter telescope at the La Silla Observatory

Firestorm of Star Birth in Galaxy Centaurus A.jpg

"Hubble's panchromatic vision... reveals the vibrant glow of young, blue star clusters..."[50]


A Hubble Space Telescope (HST) image of the dust disk in front of the nucleus of Centaurus A. Credit: HST/NASA/ESA


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

NGC 5128.jpg

Chandra X-ray view of Cen A in X-rays showing one relativistic jet from the central black hole

Moon centaurus th.jpg

A composite image showing the size of the radio glow from the galaxy Centaurus A in comparison to the full Moon

Centauros a-spc.png

"False-colour image of Centaurus A, showing radio (red), 24-micrometre infrared (green) and 0.5–5 keV X-ray emission (blue)

CentaurusA Center EN.PNG

Central part of the galaxy

Video about Centaurus A jets

See also

  • Messier 87a giant elliptical galaxy that is also a strong radio source
  • NGC 1316a similar lenticular galaxy that is also a strong radio source


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "NASA/IPAC Extragalactic Database". Results for Centaurus A. Retrieved 2006-12-06.
  2. ^ a b c J. L. Tonry; A. Dressler; J. P. Blakeslee; E. A. Ajhar; et al. (2001). "The SBF Survey of Galaxy Distances. IV. SBF Magnitudes, Colors, and Distances". Astrophysical Journal. 546 (2): 681–693. Bibcode:2001ApJ...546..681T. arXiv:astro-ph/0011223Freely accessible. doi:10.1086/318301.
  3. ^ a b c "Distance Results for NGC 5128". NASA/IPAC Extragalactic Database. Retrieved 2010-04-26.
  4. ^ a b c d e Ferrarese Laura; Mould Jeremy R.; Stetson Peter B.; Tonry John L.; et al. (2007). "The Discovery of Cepheids and a Distance to NGC 5128". The Astrophysical Journal. 654: 186. Bibcode:2007ApJ...654..186F. arXiv:astro-ph/0605707Freely accessible. doi:10.1086/506612.
  5. ^ a b c d e Majaess, D. (2010). "The Cepheids of Centaurus A (NGC 5128) and Implications for H0". Acta Astronomica. 60: 121. Bibcode:2010AcA....60..121M. arXiv:1006.2458Freely accessible.
  6. ^ a b c d Harris, Gretchen L. H.; Rejkuba, Marina; Harris, William E. (2010). "The Distance to NGC 5128 (Centaurus A)". Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia. 27 (4): 457–462. Bibcode:2010PASA...27..457H. arXiv:0911.3180Freely accessible. doi:10.1071/AS09061.
  7. ^ "SIMBAD-A". SIMBAD Astronomical Database. Retrieved 2009-11-29.
  8. ^ Armando, Gil de Paz; Boissier; Madore; Seibert; Boselli; et al. (2007). "The GALEX Ultraviolet Atlas of Nearby Galaxies". Astrophysical Journal Supplement. 173 (2): 185–255. Bibcode:2007ApJS..173..185G. arXiv:astro-ph/0606440Freely accessible. doi:10.1086/516636.
  9. ^ a b c Harris, Gretchen L. H. (2010). "NGC 5128: The Giant Beneath". Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia. 27 (4): 475. Bibcode:2010PASA...27..475H. arXiv:1004.4907Freely accessible. doi:10.1071/AS09063.
  10. ^ http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap120404.html
  11. ^ 4U catalog browse version.
  12. ^ a b c F. P. Israel (1998). "Centaurus A – NGC 5128". Astronomy and Astrophysics Review. 8 (4): 237–278. Bibcode:1998A&ARv...8..237I. arXiv:astro-ph/9811051Freely accessible. doi:10.1007/s001590050011.
  13. ^ a b c d D. J. Eicher (1988). The Universe from Your Backyard. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-36299-7.
  14. ^ "Radio Telescopes Capture Best-Ever Snapshot of Black Hole Jets". NASA. Retrieved 2012-10-02.
  15. ^ Nemiroff, R.; Bonnell, J., eds. (13 April 2011). "Centaurus Radio Jets Rising". Astronomy Picture of the Day. NASA. Retrieved 2011-04-16.
  16. ^ Quillen, A. C.; Brookes, M. H.; Keene, J.; Stern, D.; Lawrence, C. R.; Werner, M. W. (2006). "Spitzer Observations of the Dusty Warped Disk of Centaurus A". The Astrophysical Journal. 645 (2): 1092. Bibcode:2006ApJ...645.1092Q. arXiv:astro-ph/0601135Freely accessible. doi:10.1086/504418.
  17. ^ Peter Robertson; Glen Cozens; Wayne Orchiston; Bruce Slee; Harry Wendt (2010-01-01). "Early Australian Optical and Radio Observations of Centaurus A". Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia. 27 (04): 402–430. ISSN 1323-3580. doi:10.1071/AS09071. Retrieved 2016-08-21.
  18. ^ John Herschel (1849). "Outlines of Astronomy": 602.
  19. ^ J. G. Bolton; G. J. Stanley; O. B. Slee (1949). "Positions of Three Discrete Sources of Galactic Radio-Frequency Radiation". Nature. Nature. 164 (4159): 101–102. doi:10.1038/164101b0.
  20. ^ [1]
  21. ^ C. S. Bowyer; M. Lampton; J. Mack; F. de Mendonca (1970). "Detection of X-Ray Emission from 3C 273 and NGC 5128". Astrophysical Journal. 161: L1. Bibcode:1970ApJ...161L...1B. doi:10.1086/180559.
  22. ^ [2]
  23. ^ E. J. Schreier; E. Feigelson; J. Delvaille; R. Giacconi; D. A. Schwartz (1979). "EINSTEIN Observations of The X-Ray Structure of Centaurus A: Evidence For The Radio-Lobe Energy Source". Astrophysical Journal, Part 2 – Letters to the Editor. 234: 39–43. Bibcode:1979ApJ...234L..39S. doi:10.1086/183105.
  24. ^ "HubbleSite – NewsCenter – Hubble Provides Multiple Views of How to Feed a Black Hole (05/14/1998) – Background Info". Retrieved 2015-10-14.
  25. ^ R. P. Kraft; J. M. Kregenow; W. R. Forman; C. Jones; S. S. Murray (2001-10-20). "Chandra Observations of the X‐Ray Point Source Population in Centaurus A". The Astrophysical Journal. 560 (2): 675–688. Bibcode:2001ApJ...560..675K. doi:10.1086/323056. Retrieved 2015-10-14.
  26. ^ Alice C. Quillen; Mairi H. Brookes; Jocelyn Keene; Daniel Stern; Charles R. Lawrence (2006-07-10). "Spitzer Observations of the Dusty Warped Disk of Centaurus A". The Astrophysical Journal. 645 Nummer = 2: 1092–1101. Bibcode:2006ApJ...645.1092Q. doi:10.1086/504418. Retrieved 2015-10-14.
  27. ^ F. Aharonian; A. G. Akhperjanian; G. Anton; U. Barres de Almeida; A. R. Bazer-Bachi (2009-04-10). "DISCOVERY OF VERY HIGH ENERGY γ-RAY EMISSION FROM CENTAURUS A WITH H.E.S.S.". The Astrophysical Journal. 695 (1): L40–L44. Bibcode:2009ApJ...695L..40A. doi:10.1088/0004-637x/695/1/l40. Retrieved 2015-10-14.
  28. ^ J. Abraham; P. Abreu; M. Aglietta; C. Aguirre; D. Allard (2008-04-01). "Correlation of the highest-energy cosmic rays with the positions of nearby active galactic nuclei". Astroparticle Physics. 29 (3): 188–204. doi:10.1016/j.astropartphys.2008.01.002. Retrieved 2015-10-14.
  29. ^ "Deep space X: Mysterious flashes discovered beyond Milky Way". RT International. 2016-10-20. Retrieved 2016-10-22.
  30. ^ a b A. Sandage; J. Bedke (1994). Carnegie Atlas of Galaxies. Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Institution of Washington. ISBN 0-87279-667-1.
  31. ^ H. Arp (1966). "Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies". Astrophysical Journal Supplement. 14: 1–20. Bibcode:1966ApJS...14....1A. doi:10.1086/190147.
  32. ^ W. Baade; R. Minkowski (1954). "On the Identification of Radio Sources". Astrophysical Journal. 119: 215–231. Bibcode:1954ApJ...119..215B. doi:10.1086/145813.
  33. ^ P. W. Hodge; R. C. Kennicutt Jr. (1982). "An atlas of H II regions in 125 galaxies". Astrophysical Journal. 88: 296–328. Bibcode:1983AJ.....88..296H. doi:10.1086/113318.
  34. ^ "NASA/IPAC Extragalactic Database". Results for extended name search on Centaurus A. Retrieved 2007-03-07.
  35. ^ R. Evans; R. H. McNaught; C. Humphries (1986). "Supernova 1986G in NGC 5128". IAU Circular. 4208: 1. Bibcode:1986IAUC.4208....1E.
  36. ^ a b M. M. Phillips; A. C. Phillips; S. R. Heathcote; V. M. Blanco; et al. (1987). "The type 1a supernova 1986G in NGC 5128 – Optical photometry and spectra". Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. 99: 592–605. Bibcode:1987PASP...99..592P. doi:10.1086/132020.
  37. ^ [3]
  38. ^ [4]
  39. ^ a b Rejkuba, M. (2004). "The distance to the giant elliptical galaxy NGC 5128". Astronomy and Astrophysics. 413 (3): 903. Bibcode:2004A&A...413..903R. arXiv:astro-ph/0310639Freely accessible. doi:10.1051/0004-6361:20034031.
  40. ^ Majaess, D.; Turner, D.; Lane, D. (2009). "Type II Cepheids as Extragalactic Distance Candles". Acta Astronomica. 59: 403. Bibcode:2009AcA....59..403M. arXiv:0909.0181Freely accessible.
  41. ^ I. D. Karachentsev; M. E. Sharina; A. E. Dolphin; E. K. Grebel; et al. (2002). "New distances to galaxies in the Centaurus A group". Astronomy and Astrophysics. 385 (1): 21–31. Bibcode:2002A&A...385...21K. doi:10.1051/0004-6361:20020042.
  42. ^ R. B. Tully (1988). Nearby Galaxies Catalog. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-35299-1.
  43. ^ P. Fouque; E. Gourgoulhon; P. Chamaraux; G. Paturel (1992). "Groups of galaxies within 80 Mpc. II – The catalogue of groups and group members". Astronomy and Astrophysics Supplement. 93: 211–233. Bibcode:1992A&AS...93..211F.
  44. ^ A. Garcia (1993). "General study of group membership. II – Determination of nearby groups". Astronomy and Astrophysics Supplement. 100: 47–90. Bibcode:1993A&AS..100...47G.
  45. ^ I. D. Karachentsev (2005). "The Local Group and Other Neighboring Galaxy Groups". Astronomical Journal. 129 (1): 178–188. Bibcode:2005AJ....129..178K. arXiv:astro-ph/0410065Freely accessible. doi:10.1086/426368.
  46. ^ Roopesh Ojha; M. Kadler; M. Böck; R. Booth; M. S. Dutka (2009-12-30). "TANAMI: Milliarcsecond Resolution Observations of Extragalactic Gamma-ray Sources". Astrophysics. arXiv:1001.0059Freely accessible.
  47. ^ Inner Radio Lobes of Centaurus A (NGC 5128).
  48. ^ "The Dark Side of Star Clusters". Retrieved 12 June 2015.
  49. ^ http://astronomy-mall.com/Adventures.In.Deep.Space/aintno.htm
  50. ^ "Firestorm of Star Birth in Galaxy Centaurus A". NASA. Retrieved 27 September 2012.


External links

Coordinates: Sky map 13h 25m 27.6s, −43° 01′ 09″

Content from Wikipedia