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Waspie_Dwarf

Feeding Galaxy Caught in Distant Searchlight

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Feeding Galaxy Caught in Distant Searchlight

ESO’s Very Large Telescope probes growth of galaxies

Astronomers using ESO’s Very Large Telescope have spotted a distant galaxy hungrily snacking on nearby gas. Gas is seen to fall inwards towards the galaxy, creating a flow that both fuels star formation and drives the galaxy’s rotation. This is the best direct observational evidence so far supporting the theory that galaxies pull in and devour nearby material in order to grow and form stars. The results will appear in the 5 July 2013 issue of the journal Science.

Astronomers have always suspected that galaxies grow by pulling in material from their surroundings, but this process has proved very difficult to observe directly. Now ESO’s Very Large Telescope has been used to study a very rare alignment between a distant galaxy and an even more distant quasar — the extremely bright centre of a galaxy powered by a supermassive black hole. The light from the quasar passes through the material around the foreground galaxy before reaching Earth, making it possible to explore in detail the properties of the gas around the galaxy. These new results give the best view so far of a galaxy in the act of feeding.

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Zoom of an artist's impression of a galaxy accreting material from its surroundings

This zoom shows an artist's impression of a galaxy in the distant Universe, just two billion years after the Big Bang, in the process of pulling in cool gas (shown in orange) from its surroundings. Astronomers have been able to find out a lot about this object by studying not just the galaxy, but also the light of a much more distant quasar (the bright object to the left of the central galaxy), which happens to be in the right place to shine through the accreting gas. The motions of the gas and its composition fit very well with theories of cool gas accretion as a way of feeding star formation and galaxy growth.

Credit: ESO/L. Calçada/ESA/AOES Medialab. Music: movetwo

Source: ESO Observatory

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