NGC 253 (The Sculptor Galaxy)

Distance 12.8 million light years

Right Ascension: 00 : 47.6 (hours : minutes)
Declination: -25 : 17 (degrees : minutes)

NGC 253 is a member of the Sculptor Group of Galaxies which is a loose physical grouping whose prominent members include NGC 247, NGC 300, and NGC 55. NGC 253 is the brightest member of the group. There is evidence that the sculptor complex along with the CVn I and the local group form a 33 million light year filament of the larger Virgo supercluster.

NGC 253 is a prototypical starburst galaxy. The central 10,000 light years of this galaxy shows evidence of a violent burst of star formation that began some 30 million ago. Infrared studies have helped to understand inner nature of NGC 253. Contrary to normal galactic cores which contain older population stars, the conspicuous yellow-orange color of the center of NGC 253 originates not from old stars but rather from the dust attenuated light of young massive stars. The starburst region in NGC 253 is very compact with a diameter of 200 light years and is located just southwest of its nucleus.

Within the core region a classic bar was discovered that is detectable only in infrared light. Bars can significantly alter the dynamics of gas accumulation within a galaxy often resulting in the triggering of starburst regions. X-ray observations of NGC 253 have exposed a complex dynamic nature to the central region of the galaxy. A number of intermediate sized black hole candidates have been found in the center of NGC 253 all within a 3000 light year radius of the galactic center.

Like other starburst galaxies, NGC 253 shows evidence of a galactic "superwind" phenomenon. NGC 253's superwind is caused by a massive output of energy and matter, much of it in the form of 5 million degree plasma streaming from the center of the galaxy into the intergalactic medium. The ultrahot gases generate intense radiation at x-ray wavelengths which astronomers have detected. The driving force of the superwind is believed to be a collective energy outflow from episodic starbirth, mass loss from unstable stars, and energy released from supernovas. Galactic winds are always coupled to star formation and supernova rates and are a typical phenomenon of starburst galaxies.