Chandra image reveals intergalactic hot gas clouds (NASA/UMass/D. Wang et al.)
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 the massive clouds of hot gas. One of the clouds, which envelopes hundreds of galaxies, has an extraordinarily low concentration of iron atoms, indicating that it is in the very early stages of cluster evolution.
"We may be seeing hot intergalactic gas in a relatively pristine state before it has been polluted by gas from galaxies," said Q. Daniel Wang of the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, and lead author on an upcoming Astrophysical Journal article describing the study. "This discovery should provide valuable insight into how the most massive structures in the universe are assembled."
The complex, known as Abell 2125, is about 3 billion light years from Earth and is seen at a time about 11 billion years after the Big Bang. This is a period when astronomers believe many galaxy clusters are formed. Chandra’s Abell 2125 image shows several huge elongated clouds of multimillion-degree-gas coming together from different directions. These hot gas clouds, each of which contains hundreds of galaxies, appear to be in the process of merging to form a single massive galaxy cluster.
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