May 11 Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2022 May 11

Astronomers think that in the future the “Cheshire Cat” group will become what is known as a fossil group, a gathering of galaxies that contains one giant elliptical galaxy and other much smaller, fainter ones. Today, researchers know each “eye” galaxy is the brightest member of its own group of galaxies and these two groups are racing toward one another at over 300,000 miles per hour. Data from Chandra (purple), which has been combined with optical data from Hubble, show hot gas that has been heated to millions of degrees, which is evidence that the galaxy groups are slamming into one another. Chandra’s X-ray data also reveal that the left “eye” of the Cheshire Cat group contains an actively feeding supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy.

Gravity’s Grin

Image Credit: X-ray – NASA / CXC / J. Irwin et al. ; Optical – NASA/STScI

Explanation: Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, published over 100 years ago, predicted the phenomenon of gravitational lensing. And that’s what gives these distant galaxies such a whimsical appearance, seen through the looking glass of X-ray and optical image data from the Chandra and Hubble space telescopes. Nicknamed the Cheshire Cat galaxy group, the group’s two large elliptical galaxies are suggestively framed by arcs. The arcs are optical images of distant background galaxies lensed by the foreground group’s total distribution of gravitational mass. Of course, that gravitational mass is dominated by dark matter. The two large elliptical “eye” galaxies represent the brightest members of their own galaxy groups which are merging. Their relative collisional speed of nearly 1,350 kilometers/second heats gas to millions of degrees producing the X-ray glow shown in purple hues. Curiouser about galaxy group mergers? The Cheshire Cat group grins in the constellation Ursa Major, some 4.6 billion light-years away.

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