Tuesday, March 28, 2023
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This Distant Galaxy Is All Alone in Space Because It Ate Its Friends

That is a typical social faux pas. You’re in a friendly group with all of your pals, but as you subsume them one by one, absorbing them into yourself, you eventually find yourself all alone—a grotesque agglomeration alone in what was once a bustling setting.

Scientists have discovered that that appears to be what happened to a galaxy 9.2 billion years ago. Although though its surroundings indicate that it should be a part of a cluster of at least 100 galaxies, some of which should be the size of the Milky Way, the galaxy 3C 297, which bears the name, is curiously all alone.

It is possible that something else occurred to all those other galaxies because 3C 297 is the only galaxy in the universe.

Astronomer Valentina Missaglia of the University of Turin in Italy said, “It appears that we have a galaxy cluster that is missing virtually all of its galaxies. “We detect only one galaxy, whereas we anticipated to see at least a dozen galaxies roughly the size of the Milky Way.”

The Chandra X-ray Observatory, which investigates high-energy radiation from potent sources around the galaxy, provided information on the environment surrounding 3C 297. The galaxy itself is a source of this radiation because it contains a quasar, an active galactic nucleus with a supermassive black hole that consumes matter so quickly that it emits some of the universe’s brightest light.

From the polar regions of the supermassive black hole at their centre, quasars frequently release plasma beams that launch jets of matter into space at speeds that are nearly as fast as the speed of light in a vacuum. They are made of the matter that is whirling around the event horizon of the black hole and is propelled into intergalactic space by being swept up and accelerated along magnetic field lines towards the poles.

Such jets are present in 3C 297, and this is when the galaxy’s affairs start to get fascinating. The jets appear to flow through an intergalactic medium known as an intracluster medium, which is associated with a galaxy cluster, according to data from Chandra and the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array.

One of the jets appears to be interacting with gas in an intracluster medium because of the way it is bent. The other jet may have collided with gas, causing it to heat up and release X-rays, as evidenced by the creation of an X-ray source 140,000 light-years beyond the galaxy. Moreover, Chandra data indicates that there may be a lot of hot gas in the vicinity of 3C 297.

When all three traits are considered together, it seems likely that 3C 297 is not the only gravitationally linked together cluster of galaxies.

The distant quasar galaxy does indeed seem to share a region of space with other galaxies. Missaglia and her colleagues then utilised information from the Hawaii-based optical and infrared Gemini Observatory.

This information showed that the 19 galaxies are only physically close to 3C 297 in two dimensions; they do not share the same region of space because of their dramatically different distances from Earth and 3C 297. In fact, the strange quasar galaxy is by itself.

These hints point to the fact that 3C 297 is a “fossil group”—a collection of a cluster’s remnants—that resulted from a massive cluster merger.

Astronomer Juan Madrid of the University of Texas said that scientists believe the gravitational attraction of the single massive galaxy along with interactions between the galaxies was too great, causing them to merge with the large galaxy. “Apparent futility of resistance for these galaxies.”

We have observed other galaxies in the midst of these mergers and have followed the “superhighways” of gas filaments those galaxies use to coalesce. Even more fossil groups have been discovered, but those have all been found closer to us, indicating that we are seeing them at a later point in the history of the Universe.

Since 3C 297 is the oldest fossil group yet discovered by astronomers, it is possible that these mergers took place considerably earlier in the history of the universe than previously believed.

This suggests that we might need to reconsider how galaxy cluster complete mergers proceed.

The creation of this system barely 4.6 billion years after the Big Bang may be difficult to explain, according to astronomer Mischa Schirmer of the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Germany. Although it doesn’t contradict our cosmological theories, this starts to test how quickly galaxies and galaxy clusters must have originated.

But perhaps 3C 297 is not such an oddity, given how many things we’re finding in the early Universe that we didn’t think were possible.

Jonathan Williams
Jonathan Williams
Jonathan Williams is a staff writer who focuses on stories about science and space. He gives short, helpful summaries of what's new in these fields, such as technological advances, new discoveries and explorations, and updates on major space missions. His reporting is mostly about breaking down complicated scientific ideas and explaining them in a way that anyone can understand. Bushman's work helps keep people up to date on the latest developments in science and space. It also helps people learn more about and appreciate these important fields.

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