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Contour Plot: Antlia Galaxy Cluster (Abell S0636) - Extreme Deep Field - 152 Hours
Extended Halos of the Giant Elliptical GalaxiesThe large extended halos of the giant ellipticals NGC3268 and NGC3258 are very prominent, each filling a large portion around their respective cores with a smooth haze originating from the combined light of hundreds of billions of individual stars. Halos can also be seen around many of the other galaxies. Several of these show evidence of shell structures which are an indicator of past or ongoing mergers between galaxies.
Intracluster LightIntracluster Light (IcL) is the feeble glow of stars not gravitationally bound to one particular galaxy but still bound to the cluster as a whole. IcL is incredibly faint and difficult to detect because its brightness is typically well below 1% of the sky background. Over time gravitational interaction between the cluster members tend to strip individual stars from the outer regions of their host galaxies. Flung far out into the combined gravitational field of the cluster the glow from these stars merge to form a weak diffuse light. The structure of this light can provide important clues about the cluster's dynamics and its past history.
The IcL is difficult to distinguish from the IFN (see below) which also covers the entire field of view in this image. But the upper NGC 3258 group of galaxies clearly has a diffuse trailing glow that extends right and downwards above the more massive NGC3268 group. Both groups also appear somewhat connected by a bridge of material which possibly also reaches out further down to include the delicate Sa spiral NGC3269.
Delicate red filaments of the Antlia Supernova Remnant (see below) are superimposed on the space between the two subgroups, complicating the distinction between sources of diffuse light in this area. Further from the galaxies the fading IcL is drowned by the IFN which covers the entire field.
For more details on Intracluster Light see Interactions and Mergers of Cluster Galaxies by J. Christopher Mihos.