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A blue-tinged spiral galaxy is seen edge on in the centre, with streams of orange-red gas streaming from the top and bottom.

Gas (in red, top and bottom) is ejected from the nearby galaxy NGC 4383. Credit: Watts et al, 2024

Astronomers have produced the first high-resolution map of a massive explosion in the nearby galaxy NGC 4383, providing important clues on how the space between galaxies is polluted with chemical elements.

A team of international researchers studied the galaxy NGC 4383, in the nearby Virgo cluster, revealing a gas outflow so large that it would take 20,000 years for light to travel from one side to the other.

This gas outflow is the result of extremely powerful stellar explosions in the central regions of the galaxy that can eject enormous amounts of hydrogen and heavier elements. The mass of gas ejected is equivalent to over 50 million Suns.

Lead author Dr Adam Watts, from the University of Western Australia node at the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR), said very little is known about the physics of outflows and their properties because outflows are very hard to detect.

“The ejected gas is quite rich in heavy elements giving us a unique view of the complex process of mixing between hydrogen and metals in the outflowing gas. In this particular case, we can detect oxygen, nitrogen, sulphur and many other chemical elements”.

Gas outflows are crucial to regulate how fast and for how long galaxies can keep forming stars. The gas ejected by these explosions pollutes the space between stars within a galaxy, and even between galaxies, and can float in the intergalactic medium forever.

The high-resolution map was produced with data from the MAUVE survey. The survey used the MUSE Integral Field Spectrograph on the European Southern Observatoryʼs Very Large Telescope, located in northern Chile.

An intricate network of pipes surrounding the 24 spectrographs of the MUSE instrument on the VLT.

The MUSE instrument, attached to the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile. Credit: A. Tudorica/ESO

ICRAR researchers Professors Barbara Catinella and Luca Cortese, co-authors of the study and co-leaders of MAUVE, said “We designed MAUVE to investigate how physical processes such as gas outflows help stop star formation in galaxies.”

“NGC 4383 was our first target, as we suspected something very interesting was happening, but the data exceeded all our expectations.”

In the future, MAUVE observations promise to reveal the importance of gas outflows in the local Universe with exquisite detail.

The discovery was published today in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.



MAUVE: A 6 kpc bipolar outflow launched from NGC 4383, one of the most HI-rich galaxies in the Virgo cluster


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