Dwarf galaxy caught ramming into a large spiral

Aug 14, 2013
A massive multimillion-degree cloud of gas has been revealed in X-ray data from Chandra (purple) that have been combined with optical data from the Very Large Telescope (blue and white) in this new composite image. The hot gas cloud is likely caused by a collision between a dwarf galaxy and a much larger galaxy called NGC 1232. If confirmed, this discovery would mark the first time such a collision has been detected only in X-rays, and could have implications for understanding how galaxies grow through similar collisions. Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Huntingdon Institute for X-ray Astronomy/G. Garmire; Optical: ESO/VLT

Observations with NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory have revealed a massive cloud of multimillion-degree gas in a galaxy about 60 million light years from Earth. The hot gas cloud is likely caused by a collision between a dwarf galaxy and a much larger galaxy called NGC 1232. If confirmed, this discovery would mark the first time such a collision has been detected only in X-rays, and could have implications for understanding how galaxies grow through similar collisions.

An image combining X-rays and shows the scene of this collision. The impact between the dwarf galaxy and the caused a shock wave ? akin to a on Earth – that generated hot gas with a temperature of about 6 million degrees. Chandra X-ray data, in purple, show the hot gas has a comet-like appearance, caused by the motion of the . Optical data from the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope reveal the spiral galaxy in blue and white. X-ray point sources have been removed from this image to emphasize the diffuse emission.

Near the head of the comet-shaped X-ray emission (mouse over the image for the location) is a region containing several very optically bright stars and enhanced X-ray emission. Star formation may have been triggered by the shock wave, producing bright, massive stars. In that case X-ray emission would be generated by massive star winds and by the remains of supernova explosions as massive stars evolve.

The mass of the entire gas cloud is uncertain because it cannot be determined from the two-dimensional image whether the hot gas is concentrated in a thin pancake or distributed over a large, spherical region. If the gas is a pancake, the mass is equivalent to forty thousand Suns. If it is spread out uniformly, the mass could be much larger, about three million times as massive as the Sun. This range agrees with values for dwarf galaxies in the Local Group containing the Milky Way.

The hot gas should continue to glow in X-rays for tens to hundreds of millions of years, depending on the geometry of the collision. The collision itself should last for about 50 million years. Therefore, searching for large regions of hot gas in galaxies might be a way to estimate the frequency of collisions with dwarf galaxies and to understand how important such events are to galaxy growth.

An alternative explanation of the X-ray emission is that the hot could have been produced by supernovas and hot winds from large numbers of massive stars, all located on one side of the galaxy. The lack of evidence of expected radio, infrared, or optical features argues against this possibility.

A paper by Gordon Garmire of the Huntingdon Institute for X-ray Astronomy in Huntingdon, PA describing these results is available online and was published in the June 10th, 2013 issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

Explore further: Gas cloud in the galactic centre is part of a larger gas streamer

Related Stories

4C+29.30: Black hole powered jets plow into galaxy

May 15, 2013

(Phys.org) —This composite image of a galaxy illustrates how the intense gravity of a supermassive black hole can be tapped to generate immense power. The image contains X-ray data from NASA's Chandra X-ray ...

Spiral Galaxy NGC 3627

Jul 15, 2013

(Phys.org) —The spiral galaxy NGC 3627 is located about 30 million light years from Earth. This composite image includes X-ray data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory (blue), infrared data from the Spitzer ...

Recommended for you

Image: Hubble captures the Egg Nebula

7 hours ago

This colourful image shows a cosmic lighthouse known as the Egg Nebula, which lies around 3000 light-years from Earth. The image, taken with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, has captured a brief but dramatic ...

'Blockbuster' science images

Nov 21, 2014

At this point, the blockbuster movie Interstellar has created such a stir that one would almost have to be inside a black hole not to know about it. And while the science fiction thriller may have taken some ...

Estimating the magnetic field of an exoplanet

Nov 20, 2014

Scientists developed a new method which allows to estimate the magnetic field of a distant exoplanet, i.e., a planet, which is located outside the Solar system and orbits a different star. Moreover, they ...

It's filamentary: How galaxies evolve in the cosmic web

Nov 20, 2014

How do galaxies like our Milky Way form, and just how do they evolve? Are galaxies affected by their surrounding environment? An international team of researchers, led by astronomers at the University of ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

cantdrive85
1 / 5 (7) Aug 14, 2013
"DL's may be considered as a new class of celestial objects… For example, the heliospheric current system must close at large distances, and it is possible — perhaps likely — that this is done by a network of filamentary currents. Many such filaments may produce DL's, and some of these may explode." Hannes Alfven

These x-rays may be being produced by a galactic electric double layer, part of the overall galactic circuit.

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.