Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Hubble Sees Plunging Galaxy Bleeding Its Gas

The spiral galaxy D100, on the far right of this Hubble Space Telescope image, is being stripped of its gas as it plunges toward the center of the giant Coma galaxy cluster. The dark brown streaks near D100's central region are silhouettes of dust escaping from the galaxy. The dust is part of a long, thin tail, also composed of hydrogen gas, that stretches like taffy from the galaxy's core. Hubble, however, sees only the dust. The telescope's sharp vision also uncovered the blue glow of clumps of young stars in the tail. The brightest clump in the middle of the tail (the blue feature) contains at least 200,000 stars, fueled by the ongoing loss of hydrogen gas from D100. The gas-loss process occurs when D100, due to the pull of gravity, begins falling toward the dense center of the massive Coma cluster, consisting of thousands of galaxies. 

During its plunge, D100 plows through intergalactic material like a boat plowing through water. This material pushes gas and dust out of the galaxy. Once D100 loses all of its hydrogen gas, its star-making fuel, it can no longer create new stars. The gas-stripping process in the beleaguered galaxy began roughly 300 million years ago. The reddish galaxies in the image contain older stars between the ages of 500 million to 13 billion years old. One of those galaxies is D99, just below and to the left of D100. It was stripped of its gas by the same process as the one that is siphoning gas from D100. The blue galaxies contain a mixture of young and old stars. Some of the stars are less than 500 million years old. The Coma cluster is located 330 million light-years from Earth. The Hubble image is a blend of several exposures taken in visible light between May 10 and July 10, 2016, and November 2017 to January 2018, by the Advanced Camera for Surveys.
Newswise: Hubble Sees Plunging Galaxy Losing Its Gas
Credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Sun (University of Alabama), and W. Cramer and J. Kenney (Yale University)



The rough-and-tumble environment near the center of the massive Coma galaxy cluster is no match for a wayward spiral galaxy. New images from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope show a spiral galaxy being stripped of its gas as it plunges toward the cluster's center. A long, thin streamer of gas and dust stretches like taffy from the galaxy's core and on into space. Eventually, the galaxy, named D100, will lose all of its gas and become a dead relic, deprived of the material to create new stars and shining only by the feeble glow of old, red stars.

"This galaxy stands out as a particularly extreme example of processes common in massive clusters, where a galaxy goes from being a healthy spiral full of star formation to a 'red and dead galaxy,'" said William Cramer of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, leader of the team using the Hubble observations. "The spiral arms disappear, and the galaxy is left with no gas and only old stars. This phenomenon has been known about for several decades, but Hubble provides the best imagery of galaxies undergoing this process."

Called "ram pressure stripping," the process occurs when a galaxy, due to the pull of gravity, falls toward the dense center of a massive cluster of thousands of galaxies, which swarm around like a hive of bees. During its plunge, the galaxy plows through intergalactic material, like a boat moving through water. The material pushes gas and dust from the galaxy. Once the galaxy loses all of its hydrogen gas — fuel for starbirth — it meets an untimely death because it can no longer create new stars. The gas-stripping process in D100 began roughly 300 million years ago.

In the massive Coma cluster this violent gas-loss process occurs in many galaxies. But D100 is unique in several ways. Its long, thin tail is its most unusual feature. The tail, a mixture of dust and hydrogen gas, extends nearly 200,000 light-years, about the width of two Milky Way galaxies. But the pencil-like structure is comparatively narrow, only 7,000 light-years wide.

"The tail is remarkably well-defined, straight and smooth, and has clear edges," explained team member Jeffrey Kenney, also of Yale University. "This is a surprise because a tail like this is not seen in most computer simulations. Most galaxies undergoing this process are more of a mess. The clean edges and filamentary structures of the tail suggest that magnetic fields play a prominent role in shaping it. Computer simulations show that magnetic fields form filaments in the tail's gas. With no magnetic fields, the tail is more clumpy than filamentary."

The researchers' main goal was to study star formation along the tail. Hubble's sharp vision uncovered the blue glow of clumps of young stars. The brightest clump in the middle of the tail contains at least 200,000 stars, triggered by the ongoing gas loss from the galaxy. However, based on the amount of glowing hydrogen gas contained in the tail, the team had expected Hubble to uncover three times more stars than it detected.

The Subaru Telescope in Hawaii observed the glowing tail in 2007 during a survey of the Coma cluster's galaxies. But the astronomers needed Hubble observations to confirm that the hot hydrogen gas contained in the tail was a signature of star formation.

"Without the depth and resolution of Hubble, it's hard to say if the glowing hydrogen-gas emission is coming from stars in the tail or if it's just from the gas being heated," Cramer said. "These Hubble visible-light observations are the first and best follow-up of the Subaru survey."

The Hubble data show that the gas-stripping process began on the outskirts of the galaxy and is moving in towards the center, which is typical in this type of mass loss. Based on the Hubble images, the gas has been cleared out all the way down to the central 6,400 light-years.

Within that central region, there is still a lot of gas, as seen in a burst of star formation. "This region is the only place in the galaxy where gas exists and star formation is taking place," Cramer said. "But now that gas is being stripped out of the center, forming the long tail."

A long streamer of hydrogen gas is being stripped from the spiral galaxy D100 as it plunges toward the center of the giant Coma galaxy cluster. This wide view is a composite of the Hubble Space Telescope's visible-light view of the galaxy combined with a photo of a glowing red streamer of hydrogen gas taken by the Subaru Telescope in Hawaii. The narrow funnel-shaped feature emanating from the galaxy's center is the red glow of hydrogen gas. This glowing tail extends for nearly 200,000 light-years, but the pencil-like structure is comparatively narrow – only 7,000 light-years wide. The tail's clean edges and smooth structure suggests that magnetic fields play a prominent role in shaping it. Hubble's sharp vision uncovered the blue, glowing clumps of young stars in the tail. The brightest clump, near the middle of the tail [the blue feature], contains at least 200,000 stars, triggered by the ongoing gas loss from the galaxy. The gas-loss process occurs when a galaxy, due to the pull of gravity, falls toward the dense center of a massive cluster of thousands of galaxies. During its plunge, the galaxy plows through intergalactic material, like a boat moving through water. This material pushes gas and dust out of the galaxy. 

Once the galaxy loses all of its gas – its star-making fuel – it can no longer create new stars. The gas-stripping process in D100 began roughly 300 million years ago. The reddish galaxies in the image contain older stars between the ages of 500 million to 13 billion years old. One of those galaxies is D99, just below and to the left of D100. It was stripped of its gas by the same process as the one that is siphoning gas from D100. The blue galaxies contain a mixture of young and old stars. Some of the stars are less than 500 million years old. The Coma cluster is located 330 million light-years from Earth. This image is a blend of several exposures taken in visible light between May 10 and July 10, 2016, and November 2017 to January 2018, by Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys. Researchers overlaid an image of the glowing, red, hydrogen tail, taken in visible light between April 28 and May 3, 2006, by the Subaru Telescope's Subaru Prime Focus Camera (Suprime-Cam) in Hawaii.
Newswise: Hubble Sees Plunging Galaxy Losing Its Gas
Credit: Hubble: NASA, ESA, M. Sun (University of Alabama), and W. Cramer and J. Kenney (Yale University); Subaru: M. Yagi (National Astronomical Observatory of Japan)

Adding to this compelling narrative is another galaxy in the image that foreshadows D100's fate. The object, named D99, began as a spiral galaxy similar in mass to D100. It underwent the same violent gas-loss process as D100 is now undergoing, and is now a dead relic. All of the gas was siphoned from D99 between 500 million and 1 billion years ago. Its spiral structure has mostly faded away, and its stellar inhabitants consist of old, red stars. "D100 will look like D99 in a few hundred million years," Kenney said.

The Coma cluster is located 330 million light-years from Earth.

The team's results appear online in the January 8, 2019, issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency). NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy in Washington, D.C.


Contacts and sources:
Donna Weaver / Ray Villard
 Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI)




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