This is an astronomical fossil. The light used to produce this picture left its source over 10 million years ago when mammals ruled the earth but mankind had not yet taken our first steps. The events depicted here began about 100 million years earlier than that, however- we are viewing a scene that would be horrific for anything located closeby or within it because this a picture of two galaxies that have collided!

This image depicts the mysterious galaxy called Centaurus A. It received this designation in 1949 when it was discovered to be a powerful source of radio waves. It has since be recognized as a strong source of X-rays, also.

Galaxies come in all shapes and sizes but they can be broadly grouped into three categories: spiral, elliptical, and irregular. Spiral galaxies are the most beautiful type with their long arms of gas, dust and stars gracefully bent around their central areas. Elliptical galaxies appear to be large, oblong balls of light that shine from their billions of older constituent stars and are generally featureless except for their enormous size. The irregular galaxy group is the category for everything else. Irregular galaxies are distinguished by their lack of any real organization and, for all intents and purposes, appear as a randomly shaped collection of gas, dust and stars.

Centaurus A does not easily fit into any of these designations because is the result of a merger between an elliptical and spiral galaxy. The dark threads that stretch across the large ball of light are all that remains of the dust lanes from spiral galaxy which ventured too close and was swallowed by a much larger elliptical island universe.

At the center of Centaurus A resides a black hole that is over a billion times more massive than our sun and it is slowly devouring the central area of this unusual galaxy! As material is drawn into the black hole, it is shot out at either of its poles as twin jets of energy. This image cannot show the two jets that are shooting from the top and the bottom of Centaurus A because the jets are only visible in infrared, X-ray and radio waves. However, here is a link to a picture that shows them.