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Coma Cluster Animations
Click for low-resolution animation
Tour of Coma Cluster
Quicktime MPEG With closed-captions (at YouTube)

Galaxy clusters are the largest structures in the Universe held together by gravity. Because they are so big, they play a very important role in the Universe. A new result is revealing clues to how these giant structures grow and evolve over time. Astronomers have discovered enormous arms of hot gas in the Coma cluster of galaxies by using Chandra X-ray Observatory and XMM-Newton, another orbiting X-ray observatory run by the European Space Agency. Researchers think that these arms were most likely formed when smaller galaxy clusters had their gas stripped away by the head wind created by the motion of the clusters through the hot gas -- much the same way that the headwind created by a roller coaster blows the hats off riders. By studying these remarkable arms that span over a half a million light years across, astronomers are taking another step toward understanding the past, present, and perhaps future of these colossal objects.
[Runtime: 01:03]

(Credit: NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

Click for low-resolution animation
Growth of the Coma Colossus
Quicktime MPEG With closed-captions (at YouTube)

This picture shows the very large, very distant and very gassy Coma Cluster. It's a giant cluster of over 1000 galaxies that are all bound together by gravity. If you take a close look, you can make out the yellow-white shapes of galaxies scattered across the picture. The pink blobs show arms of multi-million degree gas, hot enough to cook your lungs in half a breath.

All big clusters of galaxies contain this very hot gas. The gas sends out lots of powerful X-rays because it's so hot, and these are what we can see in pink here. You can't see X-rays with your eyes, so astronomers have coloured them in pink. This gas is actually a very helpful tool for us, because the amount of material in the cluster can be measured using just the temperature of the gas! The hotter the gas, the more material there is!

Our Galaxy is also part of a group of galaxies, called the Local Group. Our cluster is also filled with gas, but it's so spread out that we don't see it when we look into the night sky. And because the Local Group is much smaller than the Coma Cluster, the gas around our galaxy isn't nearly as hot.

The gas in this picture also tells another story. The shape of these pink clouds and how they are spread throughout the cluster give us clues into how the Coma Cluster has grown. They show us that smaller groups of galaxies and smaller galaxy clusters have crashed and combined over time. The final result is the colossal Coma Cluster we see today, one of the biggest structures in the entire Universe!
[Runtime: 02:07]

(Credit: NASA/CXC/April Jubett)

Return to Coma Cluster (September 19, 2013)