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article imageStunning galactic bridge revealed by ESA Planck space telescope

By Robert Myles     Nov 23, 2012 in Science
The Planck space telescope operated by the European Space Agency (ESA) this week unveiled a spectacular image of a bridge of hot gases connecting a pair of galaxy clusters across millions of light years of space.
The image provides the first definitive evidence of a bridge of hot gas connecting the distant galactic clusters Abell 399 and Abell 401. Each of these clusters, in turn, contains hundreds of galaxies. The bridge between the galactic clusters extends across 10 million light-years of intergalactic space, reports
The Planck space observatory, named in honour of the German physicist Max Planck (1858–1947), who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1918, was launched in May 2009. The ESA Planck observatory studies the cosmic microwave background (CMB) over the entire sky, at a high sensitivity. It captured the first full-sky image of universe, as reported in Digital Journal in July 2010.
The CMB is believed to be the oldest light in the cosmos. Planck’s sensitive instrumentation concentrates on detecting this faint light. As the light crosses the universe, different cosmic structures such as galaxies and galactic clusters, like the Abell clusters pictured, interact with it. As CMB light interacts with the electrons found in hot gases, it receives an energy boost called the Sunyaev–Zel’dovich (SZ) effect. By discovering places in ‘empty’ space where CMB light has been augmented by this additional energy, astronomers can ascertain if CMB light has interacted with hot gas and deduce where distant cosmic structures are located.
A slice through a computer simulation of the cosmic web  showing a region almost a billion light yea...
A slice through a computer simulation of the cosmic web, showing a region almost a billion light years across. The brighter and redder regions are the densest, and are where galaxy clusters tend to form.
Image courtesy of Klaus Dolag, Universitäts-Sternwarte München, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität M
Clusters of galaxies have already been detected using data from Planck coupled with the SZ effect. Planck can also detect very faint strands of cosmic gas as it has done in the case of the Abell 399 and Abell 401 galactic clusters. According to NASA/JPL, these clusters are extremely distant objects being located at about a billion light years from Earth. Astronomers are therefore peering into some of the earliest mists of time when they observe these galactic clusters since light from them has taken at least a billion years to reach our solar system.
These wispy strands of gas pervade the cosmos but in areas of the Universe where they were most dense, they condensed causing the formation of galactic clusters. The theory, now proved by the Planck space observatory, was that if the galactic clusters were in sufficiently close proximity (proximity in this case being measured in millions of light years) there would be some interaction with the gravitational effects of galactic clusters causing the cosmic strands of gas to become condensed, heat up and thus become energized.
X-ray data from ESA’s XMM-Newton observatory first suggested that the vastness of space between galactic clusters was far from empty and the new data from Planck has confirmed this observation. Astronomers have also combined data from Planck and historical data from the now defunct German satellite Rosat to gauge that the temperature of the gas in the galactic bridge is the same as gas found in the two galactic clusters at an astonishing 80 million degrees Celsius, reports the European Space Agency.
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