Astronomers from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory have spotted a cluster of hydrogen clouds bridging the space between two nearby galaxies, Andromeda and Triangulum. They detected these objects using the Green Bank Telescope. They also speculate that the cluster of hydrogen clouds likely condensed out of a larger and unfound reservoir of gas.
According to Spencer Wolfe of West Virginia University, the idea that vast, “seemingly empty stretches of the Universe” could contain massive but spread out areas of hot, ionized hydrogen is not new to astronomers. Previous study of the area between Andromeda and Triangulum provided reason to believe that colder, neutral hydrogen existed among the Milky Way’s neighbors.
Not until astronomers examined the area using high-resolution photos from the GBT did a clearer picture of the region emerge. Astronomers were finally able to detect concentrations of neutral hydrogen coming out of what was believed to be a primarily “featureless field of gas.”
Astronomers were able to spot neutral atomic hydrogen due to the characteristic signal it emits at radio wavelengths. In the area between the galaxies, this material can be very hard to detect because of its faint signal and thin nature.
More than ten years ago, astronomers detected some “hints” that a reservoir of hydrogen gas existed between Andromeda and Triangulum. However, the signal was much to weak to reach any firm conclusions about its origin or characteristics. In 2012, preliminary data obtained by the GBT helped astronomers determine that there was definitely hydrogen between the two galaxies.
New data from the GBT, however, has helped astronomers fill in some of the missing pieces of the puzzle. Astronomers discovered that 50 percent of the hydrogen gas was “clumped together” into humongous blobs that would normally be indicators of dwarf galaxies, but for their lack of stars.
Using the GBT data, astronomers also determined that these newly found clouds were moving through space at speeds similar to the galaxies.
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According to Felix J. Lockman, an astronomer at the NRAO, this means that they are “independent entities.” He noted that the clustered orientation “may be the result of a filament of dark matter.”
The researchers also believe that the cluster of hydrogen clouds may be a fuel source for new stars in Andromeda and Triangulum.
Astronomers speculate that intergalactic clouds in the regions between galaxies could contain a “significant fraction’ of the unaccounted-for normal matter in space. Additional research on the region between Andromeda and Triangulum could give astronomers new information on the as-yet undetected hydrogen in the Universe.
The study’s results are described in detail in the journal Nature.
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