Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Sandbar Made of Galaxies

"Astronomers Probe 'Sandbar' Between Islands of Galaxies"
Adam Hadhazy, Mission News, Spitzer, NASA (November 24, 2010)

"Astronomers have caught sight of an unusual galaxy that has illuminated new details about a celestial 'sandbar' connecting two massive islands of galaxies. The research was conducted in part with NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope.

"These 'sandbars,' or filaments, are known to span vast distances between galaxy clusters and form a lattice-like structure known as the cosmic web. Though immense, these filaments are difficult to see and study in detail. Two years ago, Spitzer's infrared eyes revealed that one such intergalactic filament containing star-forming galaxies ran between the galaxy clusters called Abell 1763 and Abell 1770.

"Now these observations have been bolstered by the discovery, inside this same filament, of a galaxy that has a rare boomerang shape and unusual light emissions. Hot gas is sweeping the wandering galaxy into this shape as it passes through the filament, presenting a new way to gauge the filament's particle density. Researchers hope that other such galaxies with oddly curved profiles could serve as signposts for the faint threads, which in turn signify regions ripe for forming stars...."

Since this 'bent' galaxy is about 11,000,000 light years away, we're not sending a probe there. Not any time soon. And what astronomers and cosmologists learn about it isn't likely to affect the next Super Bowl, or help anyone win the lottery.

Still, the Lemming thinks this sort of thing is interesting.

As for why studying this cosmic sandbar is important:

"...Knowing how much material these filaments contain and how they interact with galaxy clusters will be very important for understanding the overall evolution of the universe, Edwards said...."

Sort-of-related posts:
A tip of the hat to NASA, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this page.

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