Centaurus A

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Centaurus A
ESO Centaurus A LABOCA.jpg
Centaurus A (NGC 5128)
Observation data (J2000 epoch)
Constellation Centaurus
Right ascension 13h 25m 27.6s[1]
Declination −43° 01′ 09″[1]
Redshift 547 ± 5 km/s[1]
Distance 10–16 Mly (3–5 Mpc)[2][3][4][5][6]
Apparent magnitude (V) 6.84[7][8]
Type S0 pec[1] or Ep[9]
Size 60,000 ly[10]
Apparent size (V) 25′.7 × 20′.0[1]
Notable features Unusual dust lane
Other designations
NGC 5128,[1] Arp 153,[1] PGC 46957,[1] 4U 1322–42,[11] Caldwell 77
See also: Galaxy, List of galaxies

Centaurus A or NGC 5128 is a prominent 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 one 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]


  • 1826: NGC 5128 was discovered on 29th April from James Dunlop during a survey at the Parramatta Observatory.[17]
  • 1847: John Herschel describes 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]
  • 1949: John Gatenby Bolton, Bruce Slee and Gordon Stanley localize NGC 5128 as one of the first extragalactical radio sources.[19]
  • 1954: Walter Baade and Rudolph Minkowski suggest, that the peculiar structure is the result of a merge event of a giant elliptical galaxy and a small spiral galaxy. [3]
  • 1970: Detection of X-ray emissions using a sounding rocket.[20]
  • 1975–76: Detection of gamma-ray emissions through the atmospheric Cerenkov technique.[4]
  • 1986: Detection of the supernova 1986G.
  • 1996: Young blue stars were found along the central dust band with the Hubble Space Telescope.[22]
  • 2006: The Spitzer Space Telescope finds a parallelogram-shaped structure of dust in near infrared images.[24]
  • 2009: Evidence of gamma emissions with very high energy (more than 100 GeV) with the H.E.S.S-Observatorium in Namibia.[25]

The galaxy is named Centaurus A as brightest radio-source in the constellation Centaurus. [5][6]


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.[28] 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.[29] The galaxy's strange morphology is generally recognized as the result of a merger between two smaller galaxies.[30]

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.[28] 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.[31]


Two supernovae have been detected in Centaurus A.[32] The first supernova, named SN 1986G, was discovered within the dark dust lane of the galaxy by R. Evans in 1986.[33] It was later identified as a type Ia supernova,[34] 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.[34]

The second supernova, dubbed SN2016adj[35] was discovered by Backyard Observatory Supernova Search in February 2016.[36]


Distance estimates to NGC 5128 established since the 1980s typically range between 3–5 Mpc.[2][3][4][5][6][37] 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[37] and Type II Cepheids[4][5] were also discovered in NGC 5128, the latter being rarely detected beyond the Local Group.[38] 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[edit]

Centaurus A is at the center of one of two subgroups within the Centaurus A/M83 Group, a nearby group of galaxies.[39] Messier 83 (the Southern Pinwheel Galaxy) is at the center of the other subgroup. These two groups are sometimes identified as one group[40][41] and sometimes identified as two groups.[42] 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.[43] The Centaurus A/M83 Group is located in the Virgo Supercluster.


Radio waves[edit]

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.[44])
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 good with the structures seen in the x-ray jet. This region of the jet is named „Inner Lobe“.[45]


Elliptical galaxy Centaurus A and its strange globular clusters[46]

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.[47]


See also[edit]

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


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External links[edit]

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