And finally, 100 million-year-old galactic mystery solved by Hubble

Images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope of the Perseus cluster of stars have helped scientists to solve a 100 million-year-old mystery of how giant structures in deep space are prevented from disintegrating. The spectacular pictures show vast, thread-like "filaments" of gas which emerge from the centre of a galaxy known as NGC 1275, situated some 235 million light years away from Earth.

Astronomers have tried to explain how these beautiful structures can have survived for so long, given that the filaments reach out from their home galaxy into the Perseus cluster, which is a hostile, high-energy environment with a strong, tidal pull of gravity.

These combined forces should have ripped apart the filaments in a very short time, causing them to collapse into stars. Instead, they have withstood this immense destructive force for more than 100 million years, scientists said. Now, for the first time, images from Hubble have allowed researchers to observe the filamentary structure in detail. Using such data, they were able to demonstrate that the strong magnetic fields in the region give the filaments a skeletal structure which is enough to enable them to resist gravitational collapse.

Professor Andrew Fabian of the University of Cambridge, who led the study published in the journal Nature, said that the unprecedented detail revealed by the Hubble telescope was the key factor.

"We can see that the magnetic fields are crucial for these complex filaments, both for their survival and integrity. Without them, these beautiful structures would be unable to withstand their surroundings and would collapse into stars," Professor Fabian said yesterday.

The filaments are a by-product of a supermassive black hole at the core of NGC 1275 interacting with gases in the Perseus cluster. This immense black hole blows out bubbles of radio-wave emitting material into the Perseus cluster. In the wake of these bubbles, cold gas from the heart of the galaxy is also dragged out into long streams to form the filaments.

Using the Hubble Space Telescope advanced camera for surveys, the scientists were able to differentiate individual threads of gas and determine their physical properties. By using the Hubble data to determine the filamentary structure, the researchers were able to estimate the strength of the magnetic fields around them and demonstrate how it is this which has maintained their structure against collapse. The study will enable the team to interpret observations of similar networks of filaments in other, even more remote central cluster galaxies.

The threads are also the only visible manifestation of the intricate relationship between the central black hole and the surrounding gas of the Perseus Cluster, making the data an important asset in the study of black holes as well.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Support Engineer

£20000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Support Engi...

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Engineer

£29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Advisor - Opportunities Available Nationwide

£15000 - £70000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to ...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence