NGC 4383, WE mapped huge explosions in the universe and showed how galaxies are “contaminating” the universe.

Telescope image shows the galaxy NGC 4383 with gas flowing from its core at a staggering rate due to star formation. ESO/A. Watts et al.CC BY

We mapped huge explosions in the universe and showed how galaxies are “contaminating” the universe.

We breathe oxygen and nitrogen gases in the atmosphere every day, but did you know that these gases also float around in space, around galaxies, and between galaxies?Our team has captured in high resolution how these elements reach the far reaches of the universe. Our research has now been published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. The outflow of gas from galaxies occurs when a supernova, the explosive death of a star, releases a mixture of gas and heavy elements such as oxygen, sulfur, and even nickel. These outflows not only “contaminate” the universe with heavy elements, but also play an important role in star formation throughout galaxies. The gas is many times dimmer than the light from the galaxy itself, making it difficult to observe the outflow from the galaxy. Therefore, we only observe outflows in a small number of galaxies in the nearby Universe. The lack of data severely limits our understanding of their physical properties. This means you can gain a wealth of new information every time you find a new drain. Gas outflow controls star formation Galaxies grow through star formation. This process is controlled by the supply of gas, the raw fuel for new stars. As new stars continue to form, even the most massive stars end their lives as supernovae. A supernova is a chemically concentrated explosion that engulfs surrounding gas and sends it out of the galaxy. This causes outflow, which is one of the main ways gas is removed from galaxies. This makes them important regulators of star formation and thus galaxy growth. They are also an effective way to distribute the elements needed to form planets like Earth. The object of our research is the spiral galaxy NGC 4383, a mysterious celestial body with many stars forming at its center. We had a feeling that something else was going on, maybe even the presence of a drainpipe. Still, more information was needed to determine exactly how this galaxy evolved. To achieve this objective, we are using one of the most sensitive ground-based instruments in the world, a multi-unit mounted on the European Southern Observatory’s VLT (Very Large Telescope) on Cerro Paranal in the north. We observed NGC 4383 using the Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE). Chile.spectacular image The data we received was even better than we could have imagined. The existence of a large gas outflow extending 20,000 light years from the center of the galaxy is clearly visible. The total mass of gas in the outflow is equivalent to 50 million times the mass of the Sun. That’s a significant number of stars that this galaxy won’t be forming anytime soon. MUSE does more than just take pictures of galaxies. Just as a rainbow represents the spectrum of sunlight, each pixel in an image contains a spectrum of light. Every element in the universe has unique spectral signatures, and the positions of these signatures change depending on the rate at which gas moves within galaxies. This also allowed them to map the movement of gases and chemical elements within NGC 4383 in detail. This gas has no smooth exit, and the violent nature of the supernovae that ejects the gas means that the outflow contains turbulent shells and chimney-like structures. Thanks to our ability to track the movement of gas, we can watch it escape at breathtaking speeds of over 200 kilometers per second. We observed chemical signatures of several heavy elements, including oxygen, sulfur, and nitrogen, carried by the outflowing gases that pollute the space around the galaxy. Now, if I was worried about space pollution, don’t worry. This is a good kind of pollution because these heavy elements are the same ones that make up the world around us and are essential to life as we know it.