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We have seen intricate patterns that milk makes in coffee and much smoother ones that honey makes when stirred with a spoon. Which of these cases best describes the behavior of the hot gas in galaxy clusters? By answering this question, a new study using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory has deepened our understanding of galaxy clusters, the largest structures in the Universe held together by gravity.
Galaxy clusters are comprised of three main components: individual galaxies, multimillion-degree gas that fills the space between the galaxies, and dark matter, a mysterious form of matter that is spread throughout a cluster and accounts for about 80 percent of the mass of the cluster.
Team - Astronomers - Set - Chandra - Observations
A team of astronomers used a set of long Chandra observations, totaling about two weeks of observing, of the Coma galaxy cluster to probe gas properties on spatial scales comparable with a typical distance that particles travel between collisions with each other. This measurement helped them to learn about the viscosity—the technical term for the resistance to the motion of gas lumps with respect to each other—of the hot gas in Coma.
"Our finding suggests that gas viscosity in Coma is much lower than expected," said Irina Zhuravleva of the University of Chicago, who led the study. "This means that turbulence can easily develop in the hot gas in galaxy clusters on small scales, analogous to swirling motions in a coffee mug."
Gas - Coma - Glows - Light - Chandra
The hot gas in Coma glows in X-ray light observed by Chandra. The gas is known to contain about six times more mass than all of the combined galaxies in the cluster. Despite its abundance, the density of the hot gas in Coma, which radio observations have shown is permeated by a weak magnetic field, is so low that the particles do not interact with each other very often. Such a...
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