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NGC 5195: NASA's Chandra Finds Supermassive Black Hole Burping Nearby
NGC 5195

  • One of the nearest supermassive black holes to Earth with active powerful outbursts has been discovered.

  • Such outbursts are part of the "feedback" process that is important to the evolution of the black hole and its host galaxy.

  • Evidence for these eruptions was found with the Chandra X-ray Observatory in the galaxy NGC 5195.

  • Two arcs in the X-ray data suggest separate eruptions from the black hole occurred millions of years ago.

Astronomers have used NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory to discover one of the nearest supermassive black holes to Earth that is currently undergoing powerful outbursts, as described in our latest press release. This galactic burping was found in the Messier 51 galaxy, which is located about 26 million light years from Earth and, contains a large spiral galaxy NGC 5194 (also known by its nickname of the "Whirlpool"), merging with a smaller companion galaxy NGC 5195.

This main panel of this graphic shows M51 in visible light data from the Hubble Space Telescope (red, green, and blue). The box at the top of the image outlines the field of view by Chandra in the latest study, which focuses on the smaller component of M51, NGC 5195.

The inset to the right shows the details of the Chandra data (blue) of this region. Researchers found a pair of arcs in X-ray emission close to the center of the galaxy, which they interpret as two outbursts from the galaxy's supermassive black hole (mouse over annotated image for additional information). The authors estimate that it took about one to three million years for the inner arc to reach its current position, and three to six million years for the outer arc.

Close up
X-ray close-up

Just outside the outer X-ray arc is a slender region of hydrogen emission detected in an optical image. This suggests that the X-ray emitting gas has "snow-plowed" or swept-up the hydrogen gas from the center of the galaxy. This is a clear case where a supermassive black hole is affecting its host galaxy, in a phenomenon that astronomers called "feedback."

This arc of hydrogen gas contains what appears to be two or three small "HII regions." An HII (pronounced "H-two") region is created when the radiation from hot, young stars strips away the electrons from neutral hydrogen atoms (HI) to form clouds of ionized hydrogen (HII). This suggests that the outer arc has plowed up enough material to trigger the formation of new stars.

The outbursts of the supermassive black hole in NGC 5195 may have been triggered by the interaction of this galaxy with the large spiral galaxy in M51, causing gas to be disrupted and then funneled down towards the black hole.

These results were presented at the 227th meeting of the American Astronomical Society meeting in Kissimmee, Florida. They are also in a paper submitted to The Astrophysical Journal and the authors are Eric Schlegel (University of Texas at San Antonio), Christine Jones (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics), Marie Marachek (CfA), and Laura Vega (Fisk University and Vanderbilt University Bridge Program).

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Chandra program for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, controls Chandra's science and flight operations.

Fast Facts for NGC 5195:
Credit  X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ of Texas/E.Schlegel et al; Optical: NASA/STScI
Release Date  January 5, 2016
Scale  Main image is about 6 x 10 arcmin (About 45,000 x 76,000 light years) Pullout image is 3 arcmin across (about 23,000 light years)
Category  Normal Galaxies & Starburst Galaxies
Coordinates (J2000)  RA 13h 29m 59.9s | Dec +47 15' 58.00"
Constellation  Canes Venatici
Observation Date  11 pointings between Mar 2000 and Oct 2012
Observation Time  232 hours 10 min. (9 days 16 hours 10 min)
Obs. ID  353,354,1622,3932,13812-13816,15496,15553
Instrument  ACIS
References Schlegel, E. et al, AAS 227, 5-8 Jan 2016
Color Code  X-ray (Blue); Optical (Red, Green, Blue)
Distance Estimate  About 26 million light years
distance arrow
Visitor Comments (1)

The spectrum at witch we observe our own universe is changing. I hope we can learn more about what is natural recurring and make wise use of the knowledge obtained from these wonderful spacecraft.

Posted by Gene RodenBerrey on Monday, 01.11.16 @ 15:23pm

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