Yesterday’s APOD picture is the latest take on a most interesting galaxy, NGC 474. This structure in deep space has been examined a great deal over the years. As computers improve the optics and the telescopes improve, the picture grows clearer and clearer. In this case, the latest sharpening of the image suddenly shows something I find very scary, creepy and at the same time, amazing. That is, this giant celestial thing is more like a huge hydrogen atom! Seriously, it has a very interesting shell inside of shell which separates the levels of activity.
Explanation: What’s happening to galaxy NGC 474? The multiple layers of emission appear strangely complex and unexpected given the relatively featureless appearance of the elliptical galaxy in less deep images. The cause of the shells is currently unknown, but possibly tidal tails related to debris left over from absorbing numerous small galaxies in the past billion years. Alternatively the shells may be like ripples in a pond, where the ongoing collision with the spiral galaxy just above NGC 474 is causing density waves to ripple through the galactic giant. Regardless of the actual cause, the featured image dramatically highlights the increasing consensus that at least some ellipticalgalaxies have formed in the recent past, and that the outer halos of most large galaxies are not really smooth but have complexities induced by frequent interactions with — and accretions of — smaller nearby galaxies. The halo of our own Milky Way Galaxy is one example of such unexpected complexity. NGC 474 spans about 250,000 light years and lies about 100 million light years distant toward the constellation of the Fish (Pisces).
So, these complex and yet relatively featureless shells are like ripples in a pond except they aren’t. The earlier pictures of this galaxy did look sort of like ‘ripples’. But now they do NOT. Not at all. The rings of energy are sharply delineated and they don’t flow from each other like ‘ripples’. They are much more like atomic levels of energy with electrons which can be kicked from one level to another when pressure or energy are applied, for example. This entity in space isn’t a ‘star’ but rather something different. I shall speculate.
The warm, fuzzy view of the galaxy is now sharp and clearer. The intense gravity of this entity is so massive, I speculate that all matter is reduced to its most elemental level, namely hydrogen atoms. Veils of matter being sucked into the maw of this thing is a different color and density. But the uniformity of the light of this entity leads me to think it is not ‘complex’ but rather, it eliminates complexity. Here is an electron microscope look at hydrogen atomic activity:
This should creep everyone out. It is so similar. It is the General Plan of Hydrogen when it rules a sector in space.
What you’re looking at is the first direct observation of an atom’s electron orbital — an atom’s actual wave function! To capture the image, researchers utilized a new quantum microscope — an incredible new device that literally allows scientists to gaze into the quantum realm.
Because of the quantum mechanical nature of the electrons around a nucleus, atomic orbitals can be uniquely defined by a set of integers known as quantum numbers. These quantum numbers only occur in certain combinations of values, and their physical interpretation changes depending on whether real or complex versions of the atomic orbitals are employed.
In physics, the most common orbital descriptions are based on the solutions to the hydrogen atom, where orbitals are given by the product between a radial function and a pure spherical harmonic. The quantum numbers, together with the rules governing their possible values, are as follows:
The principal quantum number n describes the energy of the electron and is always a positive integer. In fact, it can be any positive integer, but for reasons discussed below, large numbers are seldom encountered. Each atom has, in general, many orbitals associated with each value of n; these orbitals together are sometimes called electron shells.
The azimuthal quantum numberℓ describes the orbital angular momentum of each electron and is a non-negative integer. Within a shell where n is some integer n0, ℓ ranges across all (integer) values satisfying the relation 0≤ℓ≤n0−1. For instance, the n = 1 shell has only orbitals with ℓ=0, and the n = 2 shell has only orbitals with ℓ=0, and ℓ=1. The set of orbitals associated with a particular value of ℓ are sometimes collectively called a subshell.
How about it? I would love to hear some speculation about this strange galaxy system. It is quite different from what we consider ‘normal’ aka, spiral galaxies.