Galaxies "waste" large amounts of heavy elements generated by star formation by ejecting them up to a million light years away into their surrounding halos and deep space, according to a new study led by the University of Colorado Boulder.
The research, which was recently published online in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, shows that more oxygen, carbon and iron atoms exist in the sprawling, gaseous halos outside of galaxies than exist within the galaxies themselves, leaving the galaxies deprived of raw materials needed to build stars and planets.
Spiral galaxies like the Milky Way are shown in the center, surrounded by the circumgalactic medium, which appears as black to our eyes. However, the circumgalactic medium contains very hot gas, shown in red, orange, and white that outweighs the central galaxies. The Cosmic Origins Spectrograph on the Hubble Space Telescope is an ultra-violet spectrograph that can probe these gaseous filaments and clumps.
Credit: Adrien Thob, LJMU
"Previously, we thought that these heavier elements would be recycled in to future generations of stars and contribute to building planetary systems," said Benjamin Oppenheimer, a research associate in the Center for Astrophysics & Space Astronomy (CASA) at CU-Boulder and lead author of the study. "As it turns out, galaxies aren't very good at recycling."
The near-invisible reservoir of gas that surrounds a galaxy, known as the circumgalactic medium (CGM), is thought to play a central role in cycling elements in and out of the galaxy, but the exact mechanisms of this relationship remain elusive. A typical galaxy ranges in size from 30,000 to 100,000 light years while the CGM can span up to a million light years.
The researchers used data from the Cosmic Origin Spectrograph (COS), a $70 million instrument designed at CU-Boulder and built by Boulder, Colorado-based Ball Aerospace Technology Corp., to study the composition of the CGM.
COS is installed on NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and uses ultraviolet spectroscopy to study the evolution of the universe.
Spiral galaxies like the Milky Way actively form stars and have a blueish color while elliptical galaxies have little star formation and appear red. Both types of galaxies contain tens to hundreds of billions of stars that create heavy elements.
After running a series of simulations, the researchers found that the CGMs in both types of galaxies contained more than half of a galaxy's heavier elements, suggesting that galaxies are not as efficient at retaining their raw materials as previously thought.
"The remarkable similarity of the galaxies in our simulations to those targeted by the COS team enables us to interpret the observations with greater confidence," said Robert Crain, a Royal Society University Research Fellow at Liverpool John Moores University and a co-author of the study.
The new simulations also explain the puzzling COS observation that there appears to be less oxygen around elliptical than spiral galaxies.
"The CGM of the elliptical galaxies is hotter," said Joop Schaye, a professor at Leiden University in the Netherlands and a co-author of the study. "The high temperatures, topping over one million degrees Kelvin, reduce the fraction of the oxygen that is five times ionized, which is the ion observed by COS."
By contrast, the temperature of the CGM gas in spiral galaxies is 300,000 degrees Kelvin, or around fifty times hotter than the surface of the Sun.
"It takes massive amounts of energy from exploding supernovae and supermassive black holes to launch all these heavy elements into the CGM," said Oppenheimer. "This is a violent and long-lasting process that can take over 10 billion years, which means that in a galaxy like the Milky Way, this highly ionized oxygen we're observing has been there since before the Sun was born."
Co-authors of the manuscript "Bimodality of low-redshift circumgalactic O VI in non-equilibrium EAGLE zoom simulations" include Alireza Rahmati of the University of Zurich (Switzerland); Alexander Richings of Northwestern University; James Trayford, Richard Bower, Matthieu Schaller and Tom Theuns of Durham University (United Kingdom); and Jason Tumlinson of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland.
Benjamin Oppenheimer | EurekAlert!
A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL
23.06.2017 | Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne
Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?
23.06.2017 | National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.
Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...
Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.
Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...
Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.
As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...
Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.
With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...
Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine
Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...
19.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
23.06.2017 | Information Technology