Deep observations of two X-ray bright clusters of galaxies with ESA’s XMM-Newton satellite allowed a group of international astronomers to measure their chemical composition with an unprecedented accuracy. Knowing the chemical composition of galaxy clusters is of crucial importance to understanding the origin of chemical elements in the Universe.
Clusters, or conglomerates, of galaxies are the largest objects in the Universe. By looking at them through optical telescopes it is possible to see hundreds or even thousands of galaxies occupying a volume a few million light years across. However, such telescopes only reveal the tip of the iceberg. In fact most of the atoms in galaxy clusters are in the form of hot gas emitting X-ray radiation, with the mass of the hot gas five times larger than the mass in the cluster’s galaxies themselves.
Most of the chemical elements produced in the stars of galaxy clusters - expelled into the surrounding space by supernova explosions and by stellar winds - become part of the hot X-ray emitting gas. Astronomers divide supernovae into two basic types: ‘core collapse’ and ‘Type Ia’ supernovae. The ‘core collapse’ supernovae originate when a star at the end of its life collapses into a neutron star or a black hole. These supernovae produce lots of oxygen, neon and magnesium. The Type Ia supernovae explode when a white dwarf star consuming matter from a companion star becomes too massive and completely disintegrates. This type produces lots of iron and nickel.
Norbert Schartel | alfa
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