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Centaurus A (NGC5128). Credit: ESO/Y. Beletsky

A Twist in the Ring of Centaurus A
Jun 22, 2010

A new infrared image of the Centaurus A galaxy reveals a ring of stars inside the visually obscuring dust around its core. Astronomers assume the ring is the remnant of a smaller galaxy that merged with the larger one.

The press release reports: “What the astronomers found was surprising: ‘There is a clear ring of stars and clusters hidden behind the dust lanes…,’ says Jouni Kainulainen, lead author of the paper reporting these results. ‘Further analysis of this structure will provide important clues on how the merging process occurred….’”

Providing, of course, that the familiar assumptions of the past apply to this very unfamiliar object. How quickly we forget: Half a century ago, radio astronomy was developing in Australia because American astronomers, sure that it would be a waste of time and resources, would not allow such activities. Their familiar assumptions ruled out anything in space that would generate radio waves.

Next came x-ray astronomy with another “what the astronomers found was surprising.” After that came infrared astronomy and press releases such as this one. Surprise, followed by reasserting familiar assumptions, has been the one constant activity of astronomers. “Merging” is now the fashionable round conceptual hole into which square pegs of data are pounded.

A cursory familiarity with the fundamentals of plasma cosmology immediately suggests an entirely unsurprising, in fact expected, explanation. Active galaxies especially—and Centaurus A (CenA) is indeed active—display the characteristic axial jets and transverse toroid of unstable plasma discharges.

At the center of CenA is a thread of radio and x-ray emission, running roughly perpendicular to the ring of stars in the image, with knots of brighter luminosity in it. Farther away are knotty filaments, rotated a bit toward the north. In deep images, a spike of low luminosity extends beyond the filaments. Radio maps record strong lobes of radio emission that flare far from the galaxy to north and south.

Furthermore, a dozen active galaxies stretch along the same line thru CenA for over twenty degrees. These include radio and X-ray galaxies, Seyfert, spiral, elliptical, and peculiar galaxies, with redshifts ranging from .005 to .130. Additionally, “the bright Abell clusters of galaxies in this large region of the sky [a 40-by-40-degree survey area] are distributed in the same characteristic way as the bright and active galaxies that belong to CenA!”

The redshifts of these Abell clusters occur in two ranges: “six with .011<z<.017 and seven with .035<z<.055…. Redshift discretization is typical of galaxies with intrinsic redshifts.” [Halton Arp, Seeing Red, p. 147-8]

Having delineated the axial jet, swept into a spiral in this case by the presumed eighth-turn rotation of CenA during its ejection activity, we can now identify the ring of stars in the ESO image with a discharge toroid.

Laboratory high-energy discharges generate toroid, or ring, currents around the axis of the discharge. The toroids flatten and, as the current increases, warp and curl at their edges. “The edges curl in and out and upwards and downwards to the current flow.” [Anthony L. Peratt, “Characteristics for the Occurrence of a High-Current, Z-Pinch Aurora as Recorded in Antiquity”, IEEE Transactions on Plasma Science, Vol. 31, No. 6, December 2003, pp. 1195-6.]

The stars in the ring inside CenA have been pinched out of just such a toroidal current. The twists up and down at the far edges indicate an advanced stage of discharging. This conclusion is supported by the spiral line of ejections and the fact that the oldest objects have already  evolved from the “knot” phase, through the “Abell cluster” phase, and into the “companion galaxy” phase.

Mel Acheson



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