Mysterious cloud drifting between galaxies photographed by veteran telescope

Tuesday, June 29, 2021: Europe’s veteran X-ray telescope XMM Newton photographed an isolated cloud of gas in a distant galaxy cluster that has been puzzling astronomers for four years. The cloud of gas in the Abell 1367 cluster, also known as the Leo Cluster, is larger than the Milky Way and was first spotted by the Japanese Subaru telescope in 2017. The cloud, which has been observed in the visible and X-ray part of the electromagnetic spectrum, seems to be floating between galaxies inside the cluster located some 300 million light years away from Earth. The European Space Agency (ESA), which operates the 22-year-old XMM Newton, said in a statement that the cloud’s unattached survival is surprising.

The image has been processed by a team of scientists from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, U.S., as part of a study published recently in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. It shows the X-ray-emitting part of the cloud in blue colours and its warm gas in red. The white areas in the image show some of the visible galaxies in the distant cluster.

Scientists don’t know yet where did the cloud come from but they think it somehow separated from one of the larger galaxies in the cluster. They expect it to be held together by a strong magnetic field that prevents it from being ripped apart by the gravitational forces of the surrounding matter. — Tereza Pultarova


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