Hot, massive haloes found around most spiral galaxies

Dec 14, 2005
Hot, massive haloes found around most spiral galaxies

Astronomers using ESA's XMM-Newton observatory have found very hot gaseous haloes around a multitude of spiral galaxies similar to our Milky Way galaxy. These 'ghost-like' veils have been suspected for decades but remained elusive until now.

Above: This three-colour XMM-Newton image of NGC 4631 was created from merged EPIC pn and MOS images. Red, green and blue represent emission in the (0.2-1.0) keV, (1.0-2.0) keV, and (2.0-4.5) keV energy bands, respectively. The ellipse indicates the outer border of the H-alpha emitting disc. An extended soft X-ray halo is clearly visible which is most likely triggered by star formation related processes in the disc plane. Credits: ESA/AIRUB (R. Tüllmann)

Galaxy 'haloes' are often seen in so-called 'starburst' galaxies, the locations of concentrated star formation, but the discovery of high-temperature haloes around non-starburst spiral galaxies opens the door to new types of measurements once only dreamed about.

For example, scientists can confirm models of galaxy evolution and infer the star-formation rate in galaxies like our own by 'calculating backwards' to estimate how many supernovae are needed to make the observed haloes.

"Most of these ghost-like haloes have never been confirmed before in X-ray energies because they are so tenuous and have a low-surface brightness," said Ralph Tüllmann, from the Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany, lead author of the results.

"We needed the high sensitivity and large light-collecting area of the XMM-Newton satellite to uncover these haloes."

In starburst galaxies, which have prominent haloes, star formation and star death (supernovae) are concentrated in the core of the galaxy and occur during a short time period over the life of a galaxy. This intense activity forms a halo of gas around the entire galaxy, similar to a volcano sending out a plume.

So how can haloes form in the absence of intense star formation? Tüllmann's group say that the entire disk of a spiral galaxy can 'simmer' with star-formation activity. This is spread out over time and distance. Like a giant pot of boiling water, the steady activity of star formation over millions and millions of years percolates outward to form the galaxy halo.

Two of the best-studied galaxies so far out of a group of 32 are NGC 891 and NGC 4634, which are tens of millions of light years away in the constellations Andromeda and Coma Berenices, respectively.

The scientists noted that these observations do not support a recent model of galaxy halo formation, in which gas from the intergalactic medium rains down on the galaxy and forms the halo.


Galaxy halos contain about 10 million solar masses of gas. The scientists say it is a relatively straightforward calculation to determine how many supernovae are needed to create the halo. Supernovae are intricately tied to the rate of star formation in a given galaxy.

"With our data we will be able to establish for the first time a critical rate of star formation that needs to be exceeded in order to create such haloes," said Dr Ralf-Jürgen Dettmar, a co-author also from Ruhr University.

Once these haloes have formed, the hot gas cools and can fall down onto the galaxy's disk, the scientists said. The gas is involved in a new cycle of star formation, because pressure from this infalling gas triggers the collapse of gas clouds into new stars.

Some heavy elements might escape the halo into intergalactic space, depending on the energy of the supernovae. Further analysis of the chemical composition of the halo might reveal this.

This would determine the correctness of recent cosmological models on the evolution of galaxies, as well as provide evidence of how the elements necessary for life are distributed through the Universe.

A team led by Dr Ralph Tüllmann of the Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany, discusses these results in two articles in the scientific journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Source: ESA

Explore further: NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Distant quasar illuminates a filament of the cosmic web

Jan 19, 2014

Astronomers have discovered a distant quasar illuminating a vast nebula of diffuse gas, revealing for the first time part of the network of filaments thought to connect galaxies in a cosmic web. Researchers ...

M81's 'Halo' Sheds Light on Galaxy Formation

Apr 13, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Observations with Subaru Telescope's Prime Focus Camera (Suprime-Cam) have revealed an extended structure of the spiral galaxy Messier 81 (M81) that may hold a key to understanding the formation ...

Recommended for you

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

4 hours ago

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Quest for extraterrestrial life not over, experts say

Apr 18, 2014

The discovery of an Earth-sized planet in the "habitable" zone of a distant star, though exciting, is still a long way from pointing to the existence of extraterrestrial life, experts said Friday. ...

Sun emits a mid-level solar flare

Apr 18, 2014

The sun emitted a mid-level solar flare, peaking at 9:03 a.m. EDT on April 18, 2014, and NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured images of the event. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful ...

Impact glass stores biodata for millions of years

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —Bits of plant life encapsulated in molten glass by asteroid and comet impacts millions of years ago give geologists information about climate and life forms on the ancient Earth. Scientists ...

The importance of plumes

Apr 18, 2014

The Hubble Space Telescope is famous for finding black holes. It can pick out thousands of galaxies in a patch of sky the size of a thumbprint. The most powerful space telescope ever built, the Hubble provided ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Cosmologists weigh cosmic filaments and voids

(Phys.org) —Cosmologists have established that much of the stuff of the universe is made of dark matter, a mysterious, invisible substance that can't be directly detected but which exerts a gravitational ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.