Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Discovery of giant X-ray disk sheds light on elliptical galaxies


Astronomers discovered a giant disk of hot, X-ray emitting gas in the elliptical galaxy NGC 1700.
Courtesy of Thomas Statler

Ohio University astronomers have discovered the largest disk of hot, X-ray emitting gas ever observed in the universe: At 90,000 light years in diameter, it’s about 100,000 times the size of any comparable object. The disk, spinning through a distant galaxy, is more than just an interstellar oddity, the researchers say. The object could offer new information about the way certain galaxies form and evolve.

About 20 percent of all galaxies are elliptical, the largest of the three types of galaxies in the universe. They differ from spiral galaxies like the Milky Way, as they lack new stars and spiral "arms." Scientists once believed that elliptical galaxies were ancient, simple systems that contained only old stars and formed in the early days of the universe. But new research suggests elliptical galaxies are more complex and dynamic.

"It used to be thought that galaxies form and then sit there and age quietly over time. But now we understand that galaxies live, in the sense that there’s an interplay of gas and stars," said Thomas Statler, an associate professor of physics and astronomy and lead author of the study, published in the Dec. 20 issue of the Astrophysical Journal.

The newly discovered X-ray disk offers more evidence for that argument. Using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, an orbiting spacecraft that houses the most powerful X-ray telescope in existence, the astronomers discovered the disk while analyzing data collected from NGC 1700, a young elliptical galaxy about 160 million light years from Earth. Giant in size and about 8 million degrees in temperature, the disk was an unexpected find for Statler and colleague Brian McNamara.

But while its gargantuan scale is striking, the disk also yielded another surprise: The hot gas is not in calm balance with the gravitational forces as expected, but spinning through the galaxy.

In fact, the giant, rotating X-ray disk suggests that this elliptical galaxy – and perhaps others like it – wasn’t created by the merger of two spiral galaxies, the leading picture of elliptical galaxy formation. "If you take the simple picture that everyone has been working with, it really can’t explain this," said Statler, whose research is funded by NASA through the Chandra X-ray Observatory Center.

The astronomers hypothesize that the X-ray disk was created during the collision of an elliptical galaxy and a spiral galaxy. But instead of crashing head-on, the galaxies first dealt each other a glancing blow, sending the elliptical galaxy’s hot gas into a tailspin. "When you see gas spread out in a disk, like we’re seeing with NGC 1700, it’s telling you that the history of the galaxy is something more complicated," Statler said.

The rotation of the X-ray disk also could impact the way astronomers establish the mass of galaxies, Statler added. Scientists calculate mass based on the hot gas found inside, assuming that the gas is in pressure balance with gravitational forces. But rotation of the hot gases may throw off those computations. The researcher’s team is beginning to re-examine data from other galaxies to determine if the phenomenon exists elsewhere in the universe, and if scientists should recalculate galaxy weight.

"We want to figure out how widespread and how significant the rotation in the gas is," he said. "It could tell us how to correct what we’ve done before."

Written by Andrea Gibson.

Attention Editors, Reporters: An image of the X-ray disk is available at 300 dpi. Contact Andrea Gibson at or Becky Gill at A copy of the article on which this news release is based is available online at

This news release also is available online at

Contact: Thomas Statler, 740-593-1722,

Andrea Gibson | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Move over, lasers: Scientists can now create holograms from neutrons, too
21.10.2016 | National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

nachricht Finding the lightest superdeformed triaxial atomic nucleus
20.10.2016 | The Henryk Niewodniczanski Institute of Nuclear Physics Polish Academy of Sciences

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>