Galaxy clusters are the largest objects in the universe held together by gravity. They can contain hundreds or thousands of galaxies held together in vast clouds of multi-million-degree gas glowing in X-rays.
The system known as Abell 2384 is the result of the collision of a pair galaxy cluster hundreds of millions of years ago. This composite image was put together using x-ray data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory and XMM-Newton (blue) and radio data from the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope in India (red). It shows the superheated bridge of gas running through Abell 2384 and reveals the effects of a jet from a supermassive black hole in the center of a galaxy in one of the clusters. The jet is so powerful that it bends the shape of the 3 million light-year long gas bridge which has the mass of about 6 trillion Suns.
Image Credit: NASA
The Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) in the afterglow of the Big Bang. Why would this cluster of galaxies punch a hole in it? The CMB flows right through most of the gas and dust in the universe. It is all around us. However, large clusters of galaxies have enough gravity to contain gas hot enough to up-scatter the CMB photons into light of significantly higher energy, creating “holes” in the CMB. This is known as the Sunyaev–Zel’dovich (SZ) effect, and it’s used for decades to study the hot gas in clusters. This picture combines CMB data from ESO’s ALMA with imagery from the Hubble Space Telescope to measure the galaxies in the massive galaxy cluster RX J1347.5-1145. False-color blue shows light from the CMB; almost every yellow object is a galaxy. The shape of the SZ hole indicates not only that hot gas is present in this galaxy cluster, but also that it is distributed in a surprisingly uneven manner.
Image Credit: ESO / ESA / NASA
This multi-colored haze is actually two colliding galaxy clusters that are forming a single object known as MACS J0416.1-2403 (or MACS J0416 for short). It’s located about 4.3 billion light-years from Earth. This image combines data from three different telescopes: the Hubble Space Telescope (showing the galaxies and stars), the Chandra X-ray Observatory (diffuse emission in blue), and the NRAO Very Large Array (diffuse emission in pink). Each telescope shows a different element of the cluster.
As with all galaxy clusters, MACS J0416 contains a significant amount of dark matter which leaves a detectable imprint in visible light by distorting the images of background galaxies. In this image the dark matter appears to align well with the blue-hued hot gas, suggesting that the two clusters have not yet collided. If the clusters had already merged, the dark matter and gas would have separated.
Image credit: NASA / ESA / CXC / NRAO-AUI-NSF /STScI / G. Ogrean (Stanford University)