The Hubble telescope team is ending the year with a photo of an unusual galaxy, one that emits microwaves instead of visible light. See that image above? That’s a snapshot of IRAS 16399-0937, a “megamaser” 370 million light-years away from Earth. Megamaser galaxies are intense and are around 100 million times brighter than the microwave-emitting areas — or masers, found in star-forming regions — of the Milky Way.
To come up with the final image, the telescope had to capture the galaxy across various wavelengths using two instruments: the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) and the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS). The latter’s high resolution, in particular, allowed the team to see that the galaxy actually has two separate cores in the midst of merging hiding behind thick cosmic gas and dust. Thanks to the new images, they also discovered that the galaxy has a massive black hole, 100 times the size of the sun.
The Hubble telescope is far from retiring despite its successor’s scheduled launch in 2018. Over the past few years, it gave us a way to see the farthest star we’ve ever spotted, as well as particularly interesting galaxies, including one with a natural magnifying glass. It also helped solve cosmic mysteries, such as the heyday of galaxy formation and the origin of lyman-alpha blobs’ intense glow.