Circinus Galaxy — Resembling a swirling witch’s cauldron of glowing vapors, the black hole-powered core of a nearby active galaxy appears in this colorful NASA Hubble Space Telescope image. The galaxy lies 13 million light-years away in the southern constellation Circinus.
This galaxy is designated a type 2 Seyfert, a class of mostly spiral galaxies that have compact centers and are believed to contain massive black holes. Seyfert galaxies are themselves part of a larger class of objects called Active Galactic Nuclei or AGN.
AGN have the ability to remove gas from the centers of their galaxies by blowing it out into space at phenomenal speeds. Astronomers studying the Circinus galaxy are seeing evidence of a powerful AGN at the center of this galaxy as well.
Much of the gas in the disk of the Circinus spiral is concentrated in two specific rings a larger one of diameter 1,300 light-years, which has already been observed by ground-based telescopes, and a previously unseen ring of diameter 260 light-years.
At the center of the starburst rings is the Seyfert nucleus, the believed signature of a supermassive black hole that is accreting surrounding gas and dust. The black hole and its accretion disk are expelling gas out of the galaxy’s disk and into its halo (the region above and below the disk). The detailed structure of this gas is seen as magenta-colored streamers extending towards the top of the image.
Located near the plane of our own Milky Way Galaxy, the Circinus galaxy is partially hidden by intervening dust along our line of sight. As a result, the galaxy went unnoticed until about 25 years ago. This Hubble image was taken on April 10, 1999 with the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2.