25Apr2012

New Colliding Galaxy Cluster Discovered…The “Musketball”

In this composite image, the hot gas observed with Chandra is colored red, and the galaxies in the optical image from Hubble appear as mostly white and yellow. The location of the majority of the matter in the cluster (dominated by dark matter) is colored blue. When the red and the blue regions overlap, the result is purple as seen in the image. The matter distribution is determined by using data from Subaru, Hubble and the Mayall telescope that reveal the effects of gravitational lensing, an effect predicted by Einstein where large masses can distort the light from distant objects. Credit: Chandra

 Located about 5.2 billion light years away from Earth, a galaxy group is showing its “stuff” from a time about 700 million years after it began merging. It has been nicknamed the “Musketball Cluster”

because it is an older and slower cousin to the famous Bullet Cluster, where normal and dark matter has been pulled to pieces. Just finding this cluster is giving astronomers some great material to work with, helping them – and us – to understand how galaxy clusters enlarge and change after such violent events.

Researchers used observations from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and Hubble Space Telescope as well as the Keck, Subaru and Kitt Peak Mayall telescopes to show that hot, X-ray bright gas in DLSCL J0916.2+2951 has been clearly separated from dark matter and galaxies.

“The system is observed at least 0.7\pm0.2 Gyr since first pass-through, thus providing a picture of cluster mergers 2-5 times further progressed than similar systems observed to date.” says William A. Dawson (et al). “This improved temporal leverage has implications for our understanding of merging clusters and their impact on galaxy evolution.”

What makes the Musketball Cluster so intensely interesting? By factoring in uncertainties in age, scientists are able to study a merger environment somewhere between two to five times older than ever before. What’s more, the two galaxy groupings which form the Musketball appear to have been traveling much slower than other objects of its class.

In this unique environment, huge quantities of hot, interstellar gas are produced – and it may also affect the evolution of a galaxy group. Does it trigger star formation? Does it stop it? Does it have any effect at all? By studying this new “age”, astronomers hope to get answers to just such questions.

But that’s not all. The Musket Ball Cluster is also an opportunity to take a closer look at whether dark matter can interact with itself. These new findings may provide the type of information needed for the discovery of the type of particle responsible for dark matter!

Original Story Source: Chandra News Release.

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