Vast ionized hydrogen cloud in the Whirlpool Galaxy revealed by ultra-sensitive telescope

ScienceDaily | 5/16/2018 | Staff
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But no one -- not with the naked eye or with increasingly powerful modern telescopes -- has ever seen what Case Western Reserve University astronomers first observed using a refurbished 75-year-old telescope in the mountains of southwest Arizona.

"I literally looked at the image and said, 'What in the world is that?'" said Case Western Reserve astronomy professor Chris Mihos.

Cloud - Hydrogen - Gas - Galaxy - Radiation

What it was turned out to be a massive cloud of ionized hydrogen gas spewed from a nearby galaxy and then essentially "cooked" by radiation from the galaxy's central black hole.

Mihos and a trio of collaborators -- led by then-graduate student Aaron Watkins, and including Case Western Reserve Observatory Manager Paul Harding and University of Wisconsin astronomer Matthew Bershady -- wrote about the discovery this month in the journal The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Discovery - Gas - Cloud - Watkins - Mihos

The discovery of the giant gas cloud, first observed by Watkins in 2015 and announced by Mihos on Twitter in April, potentially provides astronomers around the world with an unexpected "front row seat" to view the behavior of a black hole and associated galaxy as it consumes and "recycles" hydrogen gas.

"We know of a few clouds like this in distant galaxies, but not in one so close to us," Mihos said. "This gives astronomers a great opportunity to study up close how gas is ejected from galaxies and how black holes can influence large regions of space around those galaxies."


A 'wonderful telescope'

But how did Case Western Reserve scientists find something others had missed?

Part - Spot - Equipment - Help - Colleague

In part, because they looked in the right spot with the right equipment -- and then enlisted the help of a colleague to confirm it with additional data.

Case Western Reserve's Burrell Schmidt telescope at the Warner & Swasey Observatory is one among more than two dozen research telescopes at Kitt Peak National Observatory, including the National Optical Astronomy...
(Excerpt) Read more at: ScienceDaily
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