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Spiral galaxies like Milky Way bigger than thought, study finds

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Posted June 28, 2013
A new CU-Boulder study indicates spiral galaxies like our Milky Way, and the M74 Galaxy shown here, are larger and more massive than previously believed. Credit: NASA

A new CU-Boulder study indicates spiral galaxies like our Milky Way, and the M74 Galaxy shown here, are larger and more massive than previously believed. Credit: NASA

Let’s all fist bump: Spiral galaxies like our own Milky Way appear to be much larger and more massive than previously believed, according to a new University of Colorado Boulder study by researchers using the Hubble Space Telescope.

CU-Boulder Professor John Stocke, study leader, said new observations with Hubble’s $70 million Cosmic Origins Spectrograph, or COS, designed by CU-Boulder show that normal spiral galaxies are surrounded by halos of gas that can extend to over 1 million light-years in diameter. The current estimated diameter of the Milky Way, for example, is about 100,000 light-years. One light-year is roughly 6 trillion miles.

The material for galaxy halos detected by the CU-Boulder team originally was ejected from galaxies by exploding stars known as supernovae, a product of the star formation process, said Stocke of CU-Boulder’s astrophysical and planetary sciences department. “This gas is stored and then recycled through an extended galaxy halo, falling back onto the galaxies to reinvigorate a new generation of star formation,” he said. “In many ways this is the ‘missing link’ in galaxy evolution that we need to understand in detail in order to have a complete picture of the process.”

Stocke gave a presentation on the research June 27 at the University of Edinburgh’s Higgs Centre for Theoretical Physics in Scotland at a conference titled “Intergalactic Interactions.” The CU-Boulder research team also included professors Michael Shull and James Green and research associates Brian Keeney, Charles Danforth, David Syphers and Cynthia Froning, as well as University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor Blair Savage.

Read more at: Phys.org

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