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Hubble finds remains of 'galactic cannibalism'

The silhouette of dust clouds against the glowing nucleus of the elliptical galaxy NGC 1316 may represent the aftermath of a cosmic collision   

(CNN) -- An international team of astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has discovered the aftermath of what some call "galactic cannibalism:" the aftermath of a 100 million-year-old cosmic collision between an elliptical and a smaller companion galaxy.

A newly released Hubble image shows a beautiful, eerie silhouette of dark dust clouds against the glowing nucleus of the elliptical galaxy NGC 1316.

A number of faint objects are scattered across the image, including both reddish galaxies in the distant background and bluer, point-like star clusters orbiting NGC 1316.

Though such clusters are common in spiral galaxies like the Milky Way, they have rarely been seen in elliptical galaxies. The astronomers conclude that the clusters are among the last visible remains of a galaxy that was consumed by NGC 1316.

That NGC 1316 has swallowed whole galaxies is evident in the wispy, smoke-like tendrils of dust, which are believed to be the remains of a gas-rich galaxy that collided and merged with NGC 1316 sometime during the last hundred million years. Other signs of a violent past include arcs and plumes of stars emanating from the outskirts of the galaxy.

NGC 1316 is a tremendously powerful source of radio waves, which are thought to be generated by a massive black hole at the its center.

The gaseous remains of the cannibalized galaxy are falling towards the center of NGC 1316, where they may ultimately end up feeding the black hole and providing the energy needed to sustain enormously energetic jets of material which extend outwards for more than 250,000 light-years, the astronomers said..

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