Perseus Galaxy Cluster Has 5 Billion-Year-Old "Cold Front," X-Ray Reveals

Those of us trapped in the icy dungeon of the Northeastern U.S. know it has not been an easy winter or spring. But new research from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory shows the Perseus galaxy cluster is experiencing its own chilly season that puts ours to shame.

A new study published in Nature Astronomy finds that this region — about 240 million light-years from our own — has a “cold front” that’s been plowing through it for about 5 billion years. FIVE BILLION. How does one continue their day like a normal human adult knowing there’s a 5 billion-year-old storm out there perusing through a distant galaxy cluster at 300,000 miles per hour? I don’t have answers, only more questions.

Somehow, it gets even weirder. Chandra X-ray data show this storm split off into two at some point in its travels, probably because of the magnetic fields that envelop it. Scientists studying the storm say it stretches a total of about 2 million light-years — for context, the distance between Earth and our nearest neighboring galaxy, Andromeda, is about 2.5 million light-years. This is one hell of a storm.

The image below shows what the storm looks like in a temperature map from Chandra. The blue regions get as “cold” as 30 million Kelvin, which is still incredibly hot by any earthly standard, but frosty for this region:

The cold front's structure.NASA/CXC/GSFC/S.Walker, ESA/XMM, ESA/ROSAT

The researchers on this study seem surprised by how well-defined this cold front has remained over billions of years.

“We find that rather than broadening through diffusion, the cold front remains extremely sharp (consistent with abrupt jumps in density) but instead is split into two sharp edges,” the team writes. “These results show that magnetic draping can suppress diffusion for vast periods of time, around ~5 Gyr, even as the cold front expands out to nearly half the cluster virial radius.”

Perseus clusterNASA/CXC/GSFC/S.Walker, ESA/XMM, ESA/ROSAT

While it might seem like winter’s never going to end, remember to have perspective: a distant galaxy is experiencing a cold front so big it’s nearly impossible for us to fathom. We’ll make it out of this, I promise.

Related Tags