X-ray and optical image of ESO 137-001
Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/UVa/M. Sun, et al; H-alpha/Optical: SOAR (UVa/NOAO/UNC/CNPq-Brazil)/M.Sun et al.

A Tale of Two Tails

Is it the worst of times for galaxy ESO 137-001? This galaxy is the unfortunate victim of an intergalactic theft. As it tries to artfully dodge through the crowd of galaxies making up the cluster Abell 3627, the hot intracluster gas stealthily steals the cold interstellar medium from ESO 137-001. As the image above shows, this is really a clumsy attempt which has left behind tell-tale evidence of the crime. Or perhaps "tell-tail" evidence is the more appropriate phrase, since, as shown in the picture above (an optical image with an X-ray image superimposed in blue), evidence of the theft can be clearly seen as two X-ray emitting tails of gas trailing behind the galaxy. Astronomers think that the two tails result from the evaporation of the stripped cooler gas from the two major spiral arms in ESO 137-001, producing emission at a temperature of about 10 million degrees visible to an X-ray telescope like the Chandra X-ray Observatory. This theft is bad news for ESO 137-001, since the loss of its material means that the galaxy's capacity to produce new stars is severely reduced. But perhaps the news isn't all bad - astronomers believe they have found some evidence of new stars forming within the trails themselves.
Published: February 1, 2010

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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified Thursday, 31-Mar-2011 16:26:11 EDT