These Hubble Space Telescope images, combined with radio maps produced by the Very Large Array Radio Interferometer (blue contour lines), show surprisingly varied and intricate structures of gas and stars that suggest the mechanisms powering radio galaxies are more complex than thought previously. The bizarre, never before seen detail may be a combination of light from massive star forming regions, small satellite dwarf galaxies, and bow shocks caused by jets of hot gas blasted out of the galaxies' cores by suspected black holes.
[LEFT] - 3C265. Hubble resolves numerous bright star clusters or dwarf "satellite" galaxies surrounding a bright central compact structure. The line corresponds to the axis of the galaxy's radio emissions, which unlike other radio galaxies, is in a different direction from the optical region. The star forming regions might result from a collision between galaxies. The jet that produces the radio emissions might have further intensified star formation.
[CENTER] - 3C324. A number of small interacting components are distributed roughly along the radio axis in this source. Comparison of the Hubble image with that from the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope suggests that the central regions of this galaxy are obscured by a large dust lane.
[RIGHT] - 3C368. One of the best studied radio galaxies, this image is composed of a very smooth cigar-shaped emission region closely aligned with the radio axis, upon which is superimposed a string of bright knots that might be stars or dust. This suggests that a jet of high speed gas, presumably ejected from a black hole at the core of the galaxy, might be triggering star formation along its path.
Credit: M. Longair (Cambridge University, England), NASA, and NRAO