Washington, December 3 (ANI): Astronomers have used the Suzaku orbiting X-ray observatory to discover the largest known reservoir of rare metals in the universe.
Suzaku detected the elements chromium and manganese while observing the central region of the Perseus galaxy cluster.
The metallic atoms are part of the hot gas, or "intergalactic medium," that lies between galaxies.
"This is the first detection of chromium and manganese from a cluster," said Takayuki Tamura, an astrophysicist at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency who led the Perseus study.
"Previously, these metals were detected only from stars in the Milky Way or from other galaxies. This is the first detection in intergalactic space," he added.
The cluster gas is extremely hot, so it emits X-ray energy. Suzaku's instruments split the X-ray energy into its component wavelengths, or spectrum.
The spectrum is a chemical fingerprint of the types and amounts of different elements in the gas.
The portion of the cluster within Suzaku's field of view is some 1.4 million light-years across, or roughly one-fifth of the cluster's total width.
It contains a staggering amount of metal atoms.
The chromium is 30 million times the sun's mass, or 10 trillion times Earth's mass. The manganese reservoir weighs in at about 8 million solar masses.
"By measuring metal abundances, we can understand the chemical history of stars in galaxies, such as the numbers and types of stars that formed and exploded in the past," Tamura said.
The Suzaku study data show it took some 3 billion supernovas to produce the measured amounts of chromium and manganese.
Over periods up to billions of years, superwinds carried the metals out of the cluster galaxies and deposited them in intergalactic space.
A complete history of the universe should include an understanding of how, when, and where the heavy elements formed - the chemical elements essential to life itself.
The Suzaku study contributes to a larger ongoing effort to take a chemical census of the cosmos.
"It's a part of learning the entire history of chemical element formation in the universe, said Koji Mukai, who heads the Suzaku Guest Observer program at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. (ANI)