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Hubble Detects Protective Shield Defending a Pair of Dwarf Galaxies

Washington, Sep 29, (Fast Mail News):-- For billions of years, the Milky Way’s largest satellite galaxies – the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds – have followed a perilous journey. Orbiting one another as they are pulled in toward our home galaxy, they have begun to unravel, leaving behind trails of gaseous debris. And yet – to the puzzlement of astronomers – these dwarf galaxies remain intact, with ongoing vigorous star formation.

 

“A lot of people were struggling to explain how these streams of material could be there,” said Dhanesh Krishnarao, assistant professor at Colorado College. “If this gas was removed from these galaxies, how are they still forming stars?”

 

With the help of data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and a retired satellite called the Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer (FUSE), a team of astronomers led by Krishnarao has finally found the answer: the Magellanic system is surrounded by a corona, a protective shield of hot supercharged gas. This cocoons the two galaxies, preventing their gas supplies from being siphoned off by the Milky Way, and therefore allowing them to continue forming new stars.

 

This discovery, which was just published in Nature, addresses a novel aspect of galaxy evolution. “Galaxies envelope themselves in gaseous cocoons, which act as defensive shields against other galaxies,” said co-investigator Andrew Fox of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland.

 

Astronomers predicted the corona’s existence several years ago. “We discovered that if we included a corona in the simulations of the Magellanic Clouds falling onto the Milky Way, we could explain the mass of extracted gas for the first time," explained Elena D'Onghia, a co-investigator at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. “We knew that the Large Magellanic Cloud should be massive enough to have a corona.”

 

But although the corona stretches more than 100,000 light-years from the Magellanic clouds and covers a huge portion of the southern sky, it is effectively invisible. Mapping it out required scouring through 30 years of archived data for suitable measurements.

 

Researchers think that a galaxy’s corona is a remnant of the primordial cloud of gas that collapsed to form the galaxy billions of years ago. Although coronas have been seen around more distant dwarf galaxies, astronomers had never before been able to probe one in as much detail as this.

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