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Glasgow physicists observe collision of galaxy clusters

Stars in the sky

Physicists at the University of Strathclyde have joined an international observation of galaxy clusters on the verge of colliding, around 10,000 light years from Earth.

The study is the first time that this phenomenon, known as a pre-merger shock, has been located by scientists.

The massive collision happened over the course of around a billion years and the physicists were able to observe only a relatively small excerpt – around 40 hours – of the immediate prelude to the event.

However, the discovery is a significant development in a series of programmes aimed at detecting merger shocks and pre-merger shocks around the universe.

Dr Junjie Mao, a Research Associate in Strathclyde’s Department of Physics, participated in the study. He said: “Galaxy clusters are among the biggest objects in the universe. Typically, they each contain several hundred galaxies, all of which have billions of stars. The space between these stars is not empty but filled with gas and dark matter.

“The collision is impossible to observe in full because it lasted so long but we were able to see a part of the pre-merger shock. This is important because it shows two massive clusters creating an even bigger cluster and behaving in a way we wouldn’t expect.

“We hope to find many more galaxy clusters in future collaborations.”

Dr Mao was part of the international team which collected observations from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) XMM-Newton observatory and US space agency NASA's Chandra X-ray telescope.

The observations were combined with earlier data from the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency's now-decommissioned Suzaku satellite and radio data from two ground-based telescopes located in Europe and India.

The study was led at the RIKEN High Energy Astrophysics Laboratory in Wako, Japan, and the findings have been published in Nature Astronomy.

 

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University of Strathclyde


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