The circumgalactic medium has been hard to observe, but new tools now make it possible.
M.S. Peeples et al/FOGGIE Project
There’s more to a galaxy than meets the eye. Galaxies’ bright stars seem to spiral serenely against the dark backdrop of space. But a more careful look reveals a whole lot of mayhem.
“Galaxies are just like you and me,” Jessica Werk, an astronomer at the University of Washington in Seattle, said in January at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society. “They live their lives in a constant state of turmoil.”
Much of that turmoil takes place in a huge, complicated setting called the circumgalactic medium, or CGM. This vast, roiling cloud of dust and gas is a galaxy’s fuel source, waste dump and recycling center all in one. Astronomers think the answers to some of the most pressing galactic mysteries — how galaxies keep forming new stars for billions of years, why star formation abruptly stops — are hidden in a galaxy’s