Updated: November 25, 2020 2:44:48 pm
At first glance, it may look like sunlight piercing through clouds on a beautiful sunset creating a stunning visual out of their dark shadows. But, it is a similar phenomenon taking place in space at a much larger magnitude. The difference is that the effect is created by light leaked by the dust disk around a massive black hole. Astronomers studied the image captured by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Hubble Space Telescope and found out that the shadows stretch at least 36,000 light-years in each direction from the centre of the galaxy IC 5063 which is 156 million light-years away from Earth.
“We think we’ve found evidence that there is probably dust all over the galaxy scattering light from the accreting black hole in the galaxy’s active nucleus, and that the light can illuminate almost the whole galaxy,” said astronomer Peter Maksym of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
The light illuminating the galaxy is a result of the blazing core of the supermassive black hole. Some of the light got leaked while the remaining was blocked by the dense patches of the dust ring around it.
“We know that this galaxy recently had a merger with another galaxy and that could kick up dust everywhere. It’s also possible that the black hole jets are kicking up dust from near the nucleus.”
The photos were taken on November 25, 2019, by the Hubble Telescope. It was in December Judy Schmidt, an artist and amateur astronomer came across the dark shadows on it when she reprocessed the exposures recorded. Schmidt turned the observation into a stunning image and shared it on Twitter like she regularly does where it caught the eyes of Maksym.
“I noticed the dark rays almost immediately after I’d opened the file in Photoshop and began working to enhance them to make sure what I thought I saw was there,” Schmidt recalls as she discovered cone-shaped shadows that were not clear in the original exposures.
“Even after I’d processed it, I kept blinking my eyes wondering if I was seeing what I thought I was seeing,” she added.
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