This stunning image is far more than just a worthy screensaver. Captured by NASA’s Chandra X-ray observatory, this twinkling celestial scene shows something truly mind-boggling: a stream of scorching hot gas 250,000 light-years in length. That’s twice the diameter of our host galaxy, the Milky Way.
It’s located about 700 million light-years away, in a galaxy cluster named Zwicky 8338. With temperatures of around 10 million degrees, it’s shooting out X-rays that the NASA observatory is able to detect and showcase to us.
The tail was spotted in November this year, but this latest image shows it in more detail.
According to a statement, scientists think it’s caused by a galaxy called CGCG254-021 losing its gas as it makes its way through Zwicky 8338's own hot cloud of gas. What’s interesting about this image is that the trail of gas seems to be disconnected from the galaxy in question.
“The large separation between the galaxy and the tail might be telling us that the gas has been completely stripped off the galaxy,” Thomas Reiprich, co-author of the study published in Astronomy & Astrophysics, said in a statement. “In effect, the tail has been cut off from the galaxy.”
Aside from being a treat to the visual senses, images such as this are helping scientists understand more about these systems and galactic processes. For instance, in addition to hydrogen, this ribbon of gas was found to contain heavier elements, which could ultimately go on to form stars. In effect, this galaxy is leaving a trail of stellar breadcrumbs.
The image can be seen in full below.
Image credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/University of Bonn/G. Schellenberger et al; Optical: INT