The galaxy UGC 6093 has an active galactic nucleus and acts as a megamaser

The galaxy UGC 6093 (Image ESA/Hubble & NASA)
The galaxy UGC 6093 (Image ESA/Hubble & NASA)

A photo of the galaxy UGC 6093 taken by the Hubble Space Telescope shows some of its interesting features. It’s a barred spiral galaxy, it has an active galactic nucleus powered by a supermassive black hole at its center and acts like a megamaser, which is an astronomical maser that emits microwaves with an intensity about 100 million times greater than that of the astronomical masers found in galaxies such as the Milky Way.

The galaxy UGC 6093, also known by other labels depending on the astronomical catalog, is about 500 million light years away from the Milky Way. It belongs to the category of the barred spiral galaxies. This type of galaxy has a central bulge with two extensions of stars that resemble a bar that crosses its nucleus. The Milky Way also belongs to this category of galaxies.

At its center, the galaxy UGC 6093 has above all an active galactic nucleus with a supermassive black hole surrounded by large amounts of gases and dust that get heated enough to emit very intense electromagnetic radiation. The intense activity of UGC 6093 isn’t limited to its nucleus because the whole galaxy acts as a megamaser.

UGC 6093 isn’t the only known galaxy that acts as a megamaser: for example IRAS 16399-0937 is another of that kind. These are natural sources of emissions similar to lasers that emit microwaves instead of visible light with a very variable intensity range. For this reason they are called, depending on that intensity, maser, megamaser or in extreme cases even gigamaser.

The released image of the galaxy UGC 6093 was taken using the Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) instrument at infrared and near-infrared visible light frequencies. This means that one of this instrument’s channels was used, specialized in detecting and processing light at those frequencies, and not the one used to detect and process light at ultraviolet and visible light frequencies.

The presence of an active galactic nucleus and the microwave emission that makes it a megamaser makes the galaxy UGC 6093 an interesting object of study. In general, astronomical masers can be useful in research because the analysis of maser emissions contains information about the environments in which they’re created, in this case an entire galaxy.

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