Mysterious Dark Rays Spotted in Nearby Galaxy

Galaxy IC 5063

Hubble Space Telescope image of nearby galaxy IC 5063. A collection of narrow bright rays and dark shadows is seen beaming out of the blazingly bright center of the active galaxy, shooting across at least 36,000 light-years. IC 5063 resides 156 million light-years from Earth. Credit: NASA, ESA, and W.P. Maksym (CfA)

Some of the most stunning views of our sky occur at sunset, when sunlight pierces the clouds, creating a mixture of bright and dark rays formed by the clouds’ shadows and the beams of light scattered by the atmosphere. Astronomers studying the nearby galaxy IC 5063 are tantalized by a similar effect in this new image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. In this case, a collection of narrow bright rays and dark shadows is seen beaming out of the blazingly bright center of the active galaxy, shooting across at least 36,000 light-years.

Astronomers have traced the rays back to the galaxy’s core, the location of an active supermassive black hole. The black hole is feeding on infalling material, producing a powerful gusher of light from superheated gas near it. Although the researchers have developed several plausible theories for the lightshow, the most intriguing idea suggests that the shadows are being cast into space by an inner tube-shaped ring, or torus, of dusty material surrounding the black hole.

IC 5063 resides 156 million light-years from Earth.

3 Comments on "Mysterious Dark Rays Spotted in Nearby Galaxy"

  1. It seems there are dark clouds of dust casting shadows; it also seems the astronomers know this; the “mystery” is why are they talking about a tube being the source of light when the center of the galaxy appears to suffice — what am I missing here?

    • You need to read more carefully. The source of the light is the “blazingly bright center of the active galaxy”. The “tube or torus” is probably the accretion disc or discs that surround the black hole.

    • Laurie Bennett | November 23, 2020 at 9:27 am | Reply

      “Although the researchers have developed several plausible theories for the lightshow, the most intriguing idea suggests that the shadows are being cast into space by an inner tube-shaped ring, or torus, of dusty material surrounding the black hole.”
      The way I understood that statement was that the shadows are thought to be cast the light shining through this ‘tube- shaped ring’ formed of dust.

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