A Loose Cannon in Space
This image of the
Dogleg Galaxy (NGC1097) is spectacular both for what it
shows and for what it hides.
The low exposure
reveals the brightest structure in the central region of the
galaxy, especially the "Ring of Pearls" around the nucleus.
This ring is conventionally explained as knots of star
formation triggered by gravitational disruption. But plasma
cosmologists will notice the rough pairing of "pearls" and
recall the pairing of Birkeland currents around plasma
toroids in laboratory experiments with the plasma gun. A
view down the barrel of the gun shows a ring of pairs of
collapse of gas clouds into stars has few other
consequences. But the paired Birkeland currents in a plasma
gun feed electrical energy into the plasmoid. When the
energy reaches a critical level, the plasmoid discharges its
energy into an axial jet and ejects knots of highly-charged
matter. So is the Dogleg Galaxy simply an island of gravity
in empty space, or are there "further consequences"?
What's not shown
in this image is the pair of faint jets and counter-jets
that stretch away to nearly twice the diameter of the
galaxy. The longest jet ends in a right-angle bend, which
gives the galaxy its name of "Dogleg." Halton Arp has called
them "the most extensive, low surface brightness optical
jets of any galaxy known." But to image them requires long
exposure times. The discovery of "further consequences"
requires more patience and daring than convention allows.
What else is not
shown in this image is the bright x-ray quasar just beyond
the dogleg jet. On the opposite side of the galaxy, along
the dogleg's counter-jet, is a line of quasars that
terminate on a BL Lac object (a rare kind of variable
quasar). This object is brighter in x-ray light than the
galaxy, indicating an electrical discharge even more intense
than the central plasma gun's "Ring of Pearls." Readers who
are familiar with Arp's work will recognize the common
occurrence of quasars paired across an active galactic
The second jet
emerges from the galaxy just behind the dislocation in the
upper arm. Significantly, there is also a gap in the lower
arm at the position of the counter-jet. It appears that the
plasma gun in the nucleus fired its last shot through the
arms. Judging by the distance the arms have rotated beyond
the jet, the shot was fired about ten million years ago.
In addition to
the jets and the quasars sprinkled along and between them,
lobes of hot material are pulled out in the same direction.
Universe interprets these observations as the consequences
of an electrical surge in the circuit feeding the Fornax
cluster of galaxies (of which NGC1097 is a member). Usually
an active galactic nucleus will eject its jets and quasars
along the galaxy's spin axis. But occasionally, as in this
instance, the plasma gun mechanism in the galaxy's core will
"wobble," becoming a "loose cannon" that ejects in the
equatorial plane, disrupting the spiral arms.