This galaxy cluster is basically drunk

Every cosmic phenomenon deserves its own unique claim to fame, but Abell 2052 deserves better than this. Its gas jerks back and forth like a drink sloshing around in a glass. It's like the cosmic equivalent of a tipsy uncle.

Astronomers at the Naval Research Laboratory spotted the bizarre movement of the giant hot gas clouds in Abell 2052, which is located 480 million light-years away. NASA's Chandra X-Ray Observatory is studying the gas, which reaches temperatures of 16 million Kelvin with the help of optical data from the Very Large Telescope in Chile. NRL astronomer Dr. Tracy Clarke says they've seen "gas sloshing like liquid in a glass", although this particular glass would need to be a million light-years across to fit in all that gas. Here's how the NRL explains the sloshing phenomenon:

The gravitational attraction of the smaller cluster drew the hot gas out of the central cluster toward the smaller cluster. Once the smaller cluster passed by the central cluster core, the gas movement reversed and it was pulled back toward the center of the main cluster. The hot cluster gas overshot the cluster center, creating the "sloshing" effect that is like the sloshing that occurs when a glass holding a liquid is quickly jerked sideways. In the cluster, gravity pulls back on the gas cloud, creating the spiral pattern.


All this sloshing by Abell 2052 might look a bit embarrassing, as though it's trying and largely failing to stagger home after a wild night with all the other galaxy clusters or something, but this weird movement serves some pretty key purposes. For one thing, the sloshing helps move gas away from the core, where it can cool down to a relatively cool 5.5 million Kelvin. This keeps the core of the galaxy nice and hot, which in turn means fewer stars will be able to form.

The sloshing also redistributes iron, oxygen, and other elements created in supernova explosions that are vital to the formation of new stars and planets. So, even if Abell 2052 doesn't look particularly dignified, it's evolved some seriously brilliant ways to make sure stars form in the most advantageous places. I'm starting to think our own galaxy could stand to slosh about much more often. I mean, we're already called the Milky Way and everything...


Via the Naval Research Laboratory.

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