Galaxy murder mystery solved

November 2, 2021

(Nanowerk news) Galaxies are being killed in one of the most extreme areas of the nearby universe, and astronomers think they know why. A paper published in Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series (“The Virgo Environment Traced In CO Survey”) provides the clearest evidence yet that the extreme environments around galaxies can reach deep inside them and steal their molecular gas – the fuel needed to feed new stars and hold a galaxy live.

This article was created by a collaboration of 36 international astronomers, including researchers from the University of Western Australia hub of the International Center for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR), presenting state-of-the-art observations of molecular gas in 51 galaxies belonging to Virgo Cluster. It is the first paper released from the Virgo Environment Traced in Carbon Monoxide Survey (VERTICO), performed using the Atacama Large Millimeter / Submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile. VERTICO — The virgin environment traced in carbon monoxide — the study observed the gas reservoirs in 51 galaxies in the nearby Virgo Cluster VERTICO — The Virgo Environment Traced in Carbon Monoxide — The study observed the gas reservoirs of 51 galaxies in the nearby Virgo cluster and found that the extreme environment in the cluster killed galaxies by depriving them of their star-forming fuel. In this composite image, ALMA’s radio wavelength observations of the molecular gas disks of the VERTICO galaxies are magnified by a factor of 20. They are superimposed on the X-ray image of the hot plasma in the Virgin Cluster. (Image: ALMA (ESO / NAOJ / NRAO) / S. Dagnello (NRAO) / Böhringer et al. (ROSAT All-Sky Survey)

“We know that galaxies in the most extreme environments suffer greatly, lose their gas reservoirs and eventually are unable to form more stars. For a galaxy, it is equivalent to dying,” said co-author Dr. Claudia Lagos, ASTRO 3D Senior Research Fellow at ICRAR-UWA “VERTICO offers us an unprecedented window on how the molecular gas, the direct fuel for new stars, is affected, allowing us to effectively diagnose what is killing these galaxies.”

The ability of a galaxy to form stars is affected by where the galaxy lives in the universe and how it interacts with its surroundings. Of the many different environments in the universe, galaxy clusters are among the most massive, hottest, and most extreme, making them the perfect cosmic laboratory for observations such as VERTICO.

The nearby Virgo Cluster is seven million light-years across and contains thousands of galaxies whizzing through superheated plasma at speeds of up to several million kilometers per hour. It is an environment so extreme and inhospitable that entire galaxies can be prevented from forming stars in a process known as galaxy extinction. However, do not worry, our own Milky Way galaxy is nowhere near any cluster and is not in danger of having its gas removed.

“With VERTICO, we looked at the gas reservoir of 51 galaxies in the Virgo cluster, one of the most extreme environments we know of. We were able to create among the most detailed maps of the distribution of gas in cluster galaxies ever observed. These images give the missing pieces of the puzzle about how the environment affects the gas content of galaxies, especially the dense and cold gas, and thus their ability to form stars. ” explains Lagos.

In the new results, the majority of VERTICO galaxies show evidence that the cluster environment left an imprint on their gas disks, providing the clearest evidence yet that external environmental mechanisms reach far into the galaxies to disrupt and disrupt their molecular gas and affect their star formation.

VERTICO – The virgin environment traced in carbon monoxide study – reveals how galaxy star formation is shut down in an extreme region of the nearby universe, the Virgo Cluster.

“Gas stripping is one of the most spectacular and violent external mechanisms that can shut down star formation in galaxies.” explains lead author Dr. Toby Brown, ICRAR alumnus and Plaskett Fellow at the National Research Council of Canada. “Gas stripping occurs when galaxies move so fast through hot plasma in the cluster that huge amounts of cold molecular gas are removed from the galaxy – as if the gas is being swept away by a huge cosmic diet. The exquisite quality of VERTICO’s observations allows us to better see and understand such mechanisms. ”

This unprecedented detail of galaxies in the highly active Virgo cluster will provide astronomers with the data needed to study and better understand how star formation and galaxy evolution proceed in the most extreme environments of the universe, in an attempt to better understand our own.

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