Centaurus Cluster/Chandra
Credit: NASA/IoA/J.Sanders & A.Fabian

Plume in Centaurus

Clusters of galaxies are among the largest structures in the Universe. In optical light they appear as a tight grouping of individual galaxies. In X-rays, the picture is entirely different: the glow from the individual galaxies is lost and the emission is dominated by huge, hot clouds of gas which exists between the galaxies. Measurement of this X-ray producing gas provides astronomers a way to measure the total mass of the cluster galaxies, since the hot gas would expand rapidly away from the cluster if it were not for the gravitational attraction produced by the matter in the galaxies. In addition measurement of the chemical makeup of the X-ray emitting gas helps astronomers understand how the hot gas came to be in the first place. The Chandra X-ray observatory has provided some of the best images of galaxy cluster emission. A new observation of the Centaurus cluster (shown above) by Chandra shows unexpected detail - a large plume of material stretching nearly 70,000 lightyears and containing more material than 1 billion suns. The origin of this plume is not certain - it may be material cooling and falling onto the center of the cluster, or it may be gas stripped off of cluster members by galaxy interactions.

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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified February 4, 2002