The Fornax Cluster is one of the closest and richest galaxy clusters to our own Milky Way galaxy. A recent image captured by the VLT Survey Telescope (VST) at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile reveals some of its hidden secrets.

One of the fascinating galaxies of the cluster is NGC 1316.  What makes it so special its dynamic history.  Having been formed by the merger of several smaller galaxies, NGC 1316 has large ripples and loops embedded in its starry sky.  These were first discovered in the 1970’s and still remain an active subject of observations today.

When NGC 1316 formed, there was a massive influx of gas as a result.  This fuels the supermassive black hole that sits in its center.  As the black hole accretes mass from its surroundings it emits powerful jets of high-energy particles that can be seen at radio wavelengths.  These jets are also what make NGC 1316 the fourth-brightest radio source in the sky.

Countless galaxies vie for attention in this dazzling image of the Fornax Cluster, some appearing only as pinpricks of light while others dominate the foreground. One of these is the lenticular galaxy NGC 1316. The turbulent past of this much-studied galaxy has left it with a delicate structure of loops, arcs, and rings that astronomers have now imaged in greater detail than ever before with the VLT Survey Telescope. This image was processed with the VST-Tube data reduction program. CREDIT  ESO/A. Grado and L. Limatola

This annotated view labels the major galaxies around NGC 1316, a lenticular galaxy that is both in the constellation of Fornax (The Furnace) and in the Fornax Cluster. This astonishingly deep view of the cluster was captured by the VLT Survey Telescope as part of the Fornax Deep Survey. Credit: ESO/A. Grado & L. Limatola — Download the full size; 138mb Click Here

Four type Ia supernovae are also thought to be present in NGC 1316. This is especially exciting as type Ia supernovae are used to measure how far away the galaxy, which is only made possible because of their intense brightness.  Using this method, researchers estimated NGC 1316 to be around 60 million light-years away.

These bright “candles of the night sky” are excellent markers to reliably measure the distance to such remote objects and are very sought after by astronomers.  They also played a key part in discovering that our Universe is expanding at an accelerating rate.

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