Galactic Wind Offers Clues to Evolution of Galaxies

A composite image of the Cigar Galaxy (also called M82), a starburst galaxy about 12 million light-years away in the constellation Ursa Major. (E. Lopez-Rodiguez, J. Moustakas / NASA)

PASADENA, Calif. (CN) – Galactic winds bursting from the center of the starburst Cigar Galaxy – famous for its speed in making new stars – offers first time clues on how stars and galaxies are shaped over time, NASA researchers said Tuesday.

Using data from the airborne Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, researchers found a magnetic field flowing out from the Cigar Galaxy, also known as M82, transports large masses of gas and dust into intergalactic space.

The material flowing from the galaxy, where stars are born 10 times faster than in the Milky Way, contains the equivalent mass of 50 million to 60 million of our sun.

Enrique Lopez-Rodriguez, a researcher with the Universities Space Research Association, said in a statement Tuesday that studying the material offers clues on how stars and galaxies are formed.

“The space between galaxies is not empty,” Lopez-Rodriguez said. “Now, we have a better understanding of how this matter escaped from inside galaxies over time.”

SOFIA’s high-resolution, far-infrared light camera – a 106-inch diameter telescope onboard a Boeing 747SP jetliner – captured images of celestial dust grains flowing along M82’s galactic winds.

Researchers said data show the galaxy’s magnetic field was pulled 2,000 light-years so it is perpendicular to the galactic disc.

“Studying intergalactic magnetic fields – and learning how they evolve – is key to understanding how galaxies evolved over the history of the universe,” said lead researcher Terry Jones of the University of Minnesota-Minneapolis, adding SOFIA’s far-light camera provides “a new perspective on these magnetic fields.”

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