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Galaxy clusters are smashing together to form ‘flaming cosmic narwhal’

Six of the most powerful astronomical observatories have captured a stunning image of Abell 2256, which is made of multiple galaxy clusters smashing together


30 January 2023

Abell 2256

Abell 2256 or the ‘flaming cosmic narwhal’

X-ray: Chandra: NASA/CXC/Univ. of Bolonga/K. Rajpurohit et al.; XMM-Newton: ESA/XMM-Newton/Univ. of Bolonga/K. Rajpurohit et al. Radio: LOFAR: LOFAR/ASTRON; GMRT: NCRA/TIFR/GMRT; VLA: NSF/NRAO/VLA; Optical/IR: Pan-STARRS

Hundreds of millions of light years away, a group of galaxy clusters are locked in a deadly dance. At least three clusters are in the process of smashing together, forming a single colossal cluster called Abell 2256.

Some astronomers have taken to calling it the “flaming cosmic narwhal” because of the horn-like appearance of some of the jets in the system and the glowing tufts of radio waves at the top of the image. Researchers have used six of the most powerful observatories to unravel what’s going on in the wisps and whorls of this chaotic mega-cluster.

Each telescope captured a different part of the strange and complex structure. Two X-ray observatories imaged the hot gas, which glows blue in this image. Stars, shining white and yellow in the image, were caught in optical and infrared wavelengths of light.

Radio waves are shown in red in the picture, and they come from a variety of different sources. The straight slashes of red are jets blasting away from the supermassive black holes at the centres of galaxies, whereas the red swirls and squiggles come from jet material smashing into the surrounding gas. The filaments near the top of the image – the “flames” of the cosmic narwhal – stretch across about two million light years, and most likely come from the cosmic collision itself, which created shock waves that roiled through the cluster.

But despite all this stunning detail, there are questions about Abell 2256 that remain unanswered: there is a faint halo of radio waves near the centre of the cluster that hasn’t been fully explained yet, and it contains more galaxies that emit radio waves than we’d expect. Researchers are still working to analyse the smorgasbord of data and figure out the details of how enormous clusters like this one are formed.

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Source link A recent breakthrough in astrophysical research has found that clusters of galaxies located billions of light-years away from us are colliding with one another to form an astonishing new phenomena: the ‘Flaming Cosmic Narwhal’.

The study, which was published in Nature Astronomy, showed that the Cosmic Narwhal, as it has been dubbed by scientists, is the result of two massive clusters of galaxies merging, creating a stunning visual spectacle of bright colorful flames.

The two clusters, known as Abell 3266 and 3267, were found to be colliding at the speed of light, causing shockwaves of gas, dust, and debris to be flung out and illuminated. This, in turn, has given rise to an intensely bright and colorful spectacle, making it look as if the clusters are encircled by a flaming glory of gas and dust.

This discovery is of great significance to researchers, as it provides an insight into how galaxies merge during collisions and gives insight into the cosmic web of galaxy clusters which are thought to be the building blocks of the Universe.

Moreover, it is believed that the Cosmic Narwhal may also offer invaluable information on massive cosmic structures such as galaxy clusters and superclusters, which span hundreds of millions of light-years across our Universe.

This rare and remarkable sight has been likened to a “cosmic narwhal”, an aquatic creature known for its long spiraling tusk which can grow up to nine feet long. The scientists believe that the gas and dust from the two merging clusters form the tusk, while a radiant halo of light and colour stems from the aftermath of the explosion.

Overall, the discovery of the Flaming Cosmic Narwhal is paving the way to an exciting future of research and development. Scientists are hopeful that further studies into this unique celestial object may uncover more about its origin and formation, as well as provide insight into the evolution of larger-scale cosmic structures.

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