A doomed galaxy in the heart of the Fornax cluster has been captured

Residents of the Fornax Galaxy cluster populate this image taken by the Victor M. Blanco 4-meter telescope, located in Chile at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO), an NSF NOIRLab program. The irregular galaxy lurking in the lower left corner of this dark energy study image is NGC 1427A, and its plunge into the heart of the Fornax cluster for millions of years will eventually change the galaxy.

A doomed galaxy in the heart of the Fornax cluster has been captured
A doomed galaxy in the heart of the Fornax cluster has been captured

The Fornax cluster, which, as the name suggests, is primarily found in the constellation Fornax (the Furnace), is a relatively nearby galaxy cluster, only 60 million light-years from Earth. This means that it occupies a prominent place in the night sky and extends over an area that is more than 100 times larger than that of the full moon.

With over 600 member galaxies, the Fornax cluster is the second “richest” (most populated) galaxy cluster within 100 million light-years from our galaxy (after the Virgin Cluster, much larger).

Two elliptical galaxies dominate the center of this image; they appear as two large diffuse points of light with bright nuclei. These galaxies tend to contain stars that are much older than picturesque spiral galaxies and are usually found in galaxy clusters such as the Fornax cluster.

These elliptical galaxies, called NGC 1399 and NGC 1404, are among the brightest members of the Fornax cluster and are held together by gravity. This reaction removes gas from the lower elliptical galaxy NGC 1404 in this image.

In the lower left corner of the image is the irregular galaxy NGC 1427A. This torn light spot is a small irregular group of stars that resembles the large Magellanic cloud.

Like NGC 1404, NGC 1427A is heading toward the core of the cluster at a speed of 2.2 million kilometers (or 1.3 million miles) per hour. This intense race against destruction will eventually cause the galaxy to crash, its resolution through gravitational interactions with other galaxies.

As with most astronomical observations, this image shows not only the intended target but also a group of near and very distant objects. The image is dotted with superimposed objects from the interior of our Milky Way galaxy: bright stars with diffraction peaks.

In the other extreme, distant galaxies provide a colorful backdrop for this image: some can be recognized as spiral galaxies, while others are just spots. Although they look small in this image, each distant galaxy contains billions of stars.

This image was taken by the 570 MP Dark Energy Camera (DECam), one of the world’s most capable wide field cameras, as part of the Dark Energy Study. Funded by the US Department of Energy (DOE) and built and tested by the US Department of Energy (DOE).

(DOE) and built and tested by the Department of Energy’s Fermilab, DECam was run by the DOE and the National Science Foundation (NSF) between 2013 and 2019. Among its many findings, DECam observations have enabled astronomers to discover nearly 300 previously unknown dwarfs galaxies in the Fornax cluster.

DECam is currently used for applications covering a wide range of sciences. Like other survey instruments, DECam captures images of large parts of the night sky, enabling astronomers to understand large structures in the universe. Telescopic surveys also make it possible to identify interesting astronomical objects that deserve to be followed and observed.

The most powerful telescopes can only overlook part of the night sky at a time, which is why astronomers often use surveys to find objects that are interesting enough to observe in detail.

Analysis of Dark Energy Survey data is supported by the Department of Energy and NSF, and the DECam Science Archive is coordinated by the Community and Data Science Center (CSDC) at NSF’s NOIRLab.

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