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Nearby Galaxy Has a Spectacular Gas Tail Trailing Behind It

First Posted: Feb 23, 2016 07:27 AM EST

Astronomers have spotted a galaxy trailed by a plume of gas. The gas tail, which is more than 300,000 light-years across, is five times longer than the galaxy itself.

A while ago, researchers noticed that the galaxy NGC 4569 contained less gas than expected. However, they couldn't explain why this was, or where the gas had gone.

"We didn't have the smoking gun, the clear evidence of direct removal of gas from the galaxy," said Luca Cortese, one of the researchers, in a news release. "Now, with these observations, we've seen a huge amount of gas that creates a stream trailing behind the galaxy for the first time. What's very nice is that if you measure the mass of the stream, it's the same amount of gas that's missing from the galaxy's disc.

The galaxy itself sits in the Virgo cluster, and is traveling through the cluster at about 1,200 kilometers per second. This movement, in particular, is causing gas to be stripped from the galaxy, forming a tail behind it.

"We know that big clusters of galaxies trap a lot of hot gas," said Cortese. "So when a galaxy enters the cluster it feels the pressure of all the gas, like when you feel the wind on your face, and that pressure is able to strip matter away from the galaxy."

The findings reveal a bit more about this galaxy, and shows exactly where the "missing" gas has gone. It could just be the first of many galaxies that will be found to have long tails of gas extending from them.

The findings are published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

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