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Giant galaxy with black hole heart gobbles up neighbor galaxy, shows violent past

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Astronomers from an observatory in Chile have discovered a killer galaxy around 60 million light years away from Earth. The galaxy shows evidence of its previous "kills."

The latest photo published by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) shows two galaxies. The galaxies are relatively close to each other. At first glance, the pair makes a beautiful sight. However, beneath the bright, swirling lights lies a gruesome tale.

The two galaxies in question are named NGC 1316 and NGC 1317. The latter is a rather quiet galaxy with a relatively ordinary past but the former is a killer. NGC 1316 bears the battle scars of previous scuffs with other galaxies and the ESO scientists believe the galaxy "killed off" other galaxies in the past.

"Several clues in the structure of NGC 1316 reveal that its past was turbulent," says the ESO. "For instance, it has some unusual dust lanes embedded within a much larger envelope of stars, and a population of unusually small globular star clusters." 

The image of NGC 1316 and NGC 1317 was taken by ESO astronomers at the La Silla Observatory in Chile. The scientists on site used the observatory's MPG/ESO 2.2 meter telescope. After analyzing the image, the scientists found evidence of a supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center.

"These suggest that it may have already swallowed a dust-rich spiral galaxy about three billion years ago," the ESO adds.

NGC 1316 is located in Fornax or "The Furnace," a constellation in the southern hemisphere. The galaxy is also referred to as Fornax A and it is the brightest source of radio emissions in the Fornax constellation.

"Also seen around the galaxy are very faint tidal tails - wisps and shells of stars that have been torn from their original locations and flung into intergalactic space," says the ESO. "These features are produced by complex gravitational effects on the orbits of stars when another galaxy comes too close. All of these signs point to a violent past during which NGC 1316 annexed other galaxies and suggest that the disruptive behaviour is continuing."

The ESO astronomers who took the image say that the last time NGC 1316 devoured another galaxy was around 3 billion years ago. Moreover, the scientists note that the galaxy is not yet finished with its killing spree. Aside from the two galaxies highlighted in the ESO image, the image also showed the presence of other galaxies. Due to gravitational lensing from NGC 1316, the other more distant galaxies can be seen on the left side of the image.

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