Just one month after its launch the Japanese satellite Hitomi suddenly went silent. But before its death it caught a rare glimpse of a tranquil cloud of gas in a galaxy cluster from Perseus constellation.
Hitomi’s mission goal was to scour the Universe for supernovae and black holes from a 360 mile distance above Earth. It was launched in February but after a month, the orbiter’s X-ray telescope lost its functionality. Mission scientists believe that it somehow broke apart.
Still, before permanently shutting down, Hitomi was able to capture a rare instance of the Universe. The image revealed that gases in Perseus galaxies as not as restless as scientists had thought.
Scientists calculated that the hot gas in the galaxy cluster is swirling at just 366,858 mph which is a lot slower than what they had estimated. The finding could help researchers better understand how galaxies form in these dense clusters.
It could also unveil the role of the supermassive black hole at the core of the galaxy cluster in galaxy formation. Researchers believe that the tranquil intergalactic gas in the said cluster of galaxies may stem from the supermassive black hole not the galaxies themselves.
If the theory is correct, it means that black holes play a critical part in how galaxies grow. Hitomi’s imagery spans over three days of observations, or at least this is how much mission scientists were able to retrieve from the now-defunct spacecraft.
Andrew Fabian, one of the scientists who took a glimpse at the raw data, said that the intergalactic gas’ composition is very similar to the Sun’s only that it is far more “diluted.” Fabian added that there are traces of helium, hydrogen, iron and other elements which due to strong ionization have a strong emission.
The researcher explained that most cosmic gas can be found between galaxies not within them across the Universe. Perseus galaxies reportedly swirl at 2.7 million mph. At the center of the cluster lies a huge black hole which spews powerful jets of matter towards the gas cloud.
According to a past theory, supermassive black holes’ radiation and resulting matter were expected to churn the intergalactic gas to produce bubbles of superheated plasma, which kept the gas cool and prevented it from forming new stars.
By contrast, Hitomi’s data shows that at least in Perseus galaxies’ case this theory does not apply.
Image Source: YouTube