A galaxy cluster gets sloshed

December 14, 2011 By Janet Anderson and Megan Watzke
Credits: X-ray: NASA/CXC/BU/L.Blanton; Optical: ESO/VLT

(PhysOrg.com) -- Like wine in a glass, vast clouds of hot gas are sloshing back and forth in Abell 2052, a galaxy cluster located about 480 million light years from Earth. X-ray data (blue) from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory shows the hot gas in this dynamic system, and optical data (gold) from the Very Large Telescope shows the galaxies. The hot, X-ray bright gas has an average temperature of about 30 million degrees.

A huge spiral structure in the hot gas -- spanning almost a million light years -- is seen around the outside of the image, surrounding a at the center. This spiral was created when a small smashed into a larger one that surrounds the central elliptical galaxy.

As the smaller cluster approached, the dense hot gas of the central cluster was attracted to it by gravity. After the smaller cluster passed the cluster core, the direction of motion of the cluster gas reversed and it traveled back towards the cluster center. The cluster gas moved through the center again and "sloshed" back and forth, similar to wine sloshing in a glass that was jerked sideways. The sides of the glass push the wine back to the center, whereas in the cluster the of the matter in the clusters pulls it back. The sloshing gas ended up in a spiral pattern because the collision between the two clusters was off-center.

This type of sloshing in Abell 2052 has important physical implications. First, it helps push some of the more dense, cooler gas located in the center of the cluster -- where temperatures are only about 10 million degrees -- farther away from the core. This helps prevent further cooling of this gas in the core and could limit the amount of new stars being formed in the central galaxy. Sloshing motions like those seen in Abell 2052 also redistribute heavy elements, like iron and oxygen, which are forged in supernova explosions. These elements are used in the of stars and planets and are necessary for life as we know it.

Chandra's observation of Abell 2052 was particularly long, lasting more than a week. Such a deep observation was necessary to detect all of the details in this image. Even then, processing to emphasize more subtle features was necessary to reveal the outer .

In addition to the large-scale spiral feature, the deep Chandra observation reveals exquisite detail in the center related to outbursts from the central supermassive black hole. The Chandra data show clear bubbles evacuated by material blasted away from the black hole, which are surrounded by dense, bright, cool rims. As with the sloshing, this activity helps prevent cooling of the gas in the cluster's core, setting limits on the growth of the giant elliptical galaxy and its supermassive black hole.

Explore further: Chandra catches early phase of cosmic assembly

Related Stories

Chandra catches early phase of cosmic assembly

August 15, 2004

A NASA Chandra X-ray Observatory image has revealed a complex of several intergalactic hot gas clouds in the process of merging. The superb Chandra spatial resolution made it possible to distinguish individual galaxies from ...

Galaxy cluster takes it to the extreme

May 30, 2007

Evidence for an awesome upheaval in a massive galaxy cluster was discovered in an image made by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. The origin of a bright arc of ferociously hot gas extending over two million light years ...

Black Hole Pumps Iron

September 14, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- This composite image of the Hydra A galaxy cluster shows 10-million- degree gas observed by Chandra in blue and jets of radio emission observed by the Very Large Array in pink. Optical data from the Canada- ...

Enriching the intracluster medium

March 22, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Galaxies are sometimes found in large clusters with many hundreds of members. Typically there is a giant elliptical galaxy near the center; most of these ellipticals are very bright emitters of radio radiation ...

Recommended for you

First detection of lithium from an exploding star

July 29, 2015

The chemical element lithium has been found for the first time in material ejected by a nova. Observations of Nova Centauri 2013 made using telescopes at ESO's La Silla Observatory, and near Santiago in Chile, help to explain ...

Dense star clusters shown to be binary black hole factories

July 29, 2015

The coalescence of two black holes—a very violent and exotic event—is one of the most sought-after observations of modern astronomy. But, as these mergers emit no light of any kind, finding such elusive events has been ...

New names and insights at Ceres

July 29, 2015

Colorful new maps of Ceres, based on data from NASA's Dawn spacecraft, showcase a diverse topography, with height differences between crater bottoms and mountain peaks as great as 9 miles (15 kilometers).

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

dtyarbrough
1 / 5 (3) Dec 14, 2011
What where they sloshing around in their glasses when they came up with this explanation for xrays so far from a heat source. Xrays are not super energetic photons. Their ability to penetrate matter is due to their small size and weak magnetic fields. Xrays occur when cosmic rays reach far enough to disturb cold photons. If they reach even farther to even colder photons, gamma rays are produced.
ccr5Delta32
5 / 5 (3) Dec 14, 2011
@ dtyarbrough " Xrays are not super energetic photons " That is precisely what they are ,high energy photons with about a wavelength of 1nm
Maybe you're confusing them with something else ? . I can't think what though !!

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.