Galactic light rays

Bands of light and dark shine out from the shrouded core of the active galaxy IC 5063, which is a lenticular (disc) galaxy located 156 million light years away in the Southern Hemisphere constellation of Indus.

Image: NASA/ESA/W. P. Maksym (CfA).

At the heart of IC 5063 is an active supermassive black hole that is busy guzzling gas. As the gas nears the black hole, it heats up and forms an accretion disc that is radiating brilliant light. IC 5063 is in a category of active galaxy known as Seyfert Type II, in which the active core of the galaxy is partially obscured by a thick torus, or ring, of dust.

Emanating from the centre of the galaxy, and clearly seen in this Hubble Space Telescope image, are rays of light stretching up to 36,000 light years from IC 5063’s centre. Like crepuscular rays shining through gaps in clouds on the horizon at sunset, it is thought that these cosmic rays of light are being produced by the luminosity of the active centre piercing through gaps in the dusty torus. Image: NASA/ESA/W. P. Maksym (CfA).