Look! One of the biggest structures in our known universe, the Coma

Scientists have discovered enormous tendrils of hot plasma emanating from the center of the Coma galaxy cluster, and you can see them for yourself in the composite first image in the photo gallery above.

The red stuff is the X-ray emission of the super-hot gas -- millions of degrees Celsius -- as seen by the Chandra X-Ray Observatory.

The blue and white blobs in the background are some of the thousands of galaxies that make up the massive Coma cluster.

Before you click away, know that together, those wavy red arms span a distance of more than half a million light-years.

That's a lot of space you're looking at.

"The numbers are huge," says astronomer Jeremy Sanders of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics and lead author of a new study in the journal Science describing the hot gaseous arms. 

The Coma galaxy cluster is itself one of the biggest structures in the universe. It contains thousands of galaxies and stretches an incredible 20 million light-years across, according to a description on the Hubble telescope website.

Scientists have known for a while that the Coma cluster's center consists of a diffuse cloud of hot plasma, but this is the first time that astronomers have been able to see the extra-hot streaks within the plasma cloud. 

"Nobody had seen it before because Chandra hadn't looked long enough before," Sanders said. "We had six days on the telescope, about 10 times longer than anyone else."

He thinks the tendrils represent hot gas that was stripped from the sides of galaxies as they moved through the cluster.

"Think of how when you wave a flare around, you get a trail of smoke behind it," he said. "Another example would be the contrail from a plane."

If you are marveling at the vastness of our universe, we've got something in common. Follow me on Twitter for more stories like this. 


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