Fireworks Galaxy Is As Beautiful As It Is Short-Lived
A newly appreciated galaxy is celebrating Independence Day (and my birthday) with colorful and intense fireworks-like displays
Messier-106 is no ordinary spiral galaxy. Two of it’s spiral arms are weird enough that astronomers call them anomalous. They glow fiercely in x-rays and they extend outside the plain of the galaxy in defiance of the other more stately arms.
So what are they?
Well, it all starts with the supermassive blackhole at its core. It’s quite massive to start with; 10 times the mass of our black hole or a half million solar-masses.
This blackhole produces jets of high energy particles as such objects are wont to do. These jets don’t leave the scene of the crime at 90 degrees to the galactic plane like most other jets though. They interact with the galaxy in a fiendishly beautiful and terminal way.
The jets strike the disk of the galaxy, ploughing into hydrogen gas and creating sonic-boom-like shock waves. These shock waves heat the gas to thousands of degrees causing them to glow beautifully like fireworks. It’s not a little glowing either. We’re talking about heating an amount of gas 10 million times more massive than our sun. Take that bottlerocket.
Heating isn’t the only side-effect though. The shockwaves cause the gas to form spiral arms that funnel the gas out of the interior of the galaxy. This beauty then comes at a price. Two-thirds of the gas in the central part of the galaxy is already gone resulting int the formation of new stars at a rate one-tenth that of the Milky Way. Ultimately, this will cause Messier 106 to metamorphose from a spiral galaxy into an Lenticular galaxy filled with mostly old red stars with no identifiable spiral arms; a flat disk essentially.
Don’t be sad though. Messier 106 will still be beautiful on July 4th in a million years. Maybe our robot descendants will look at it in the night sky on that date and think of fireworks as well.