The ecosystem that controls a galaxy’s future is coming into focus | Science News

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The ecosystem that controls a galaxy’s future is coming into focus

The circumgalactic medium has been hard to observe, but new tools now make it possible.

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7:00am, July 12, 2018
cgm simulation

COSMIC CLOAK  Whirls of cold and hot gas billow in this simulation of a circumgalactic medium surrounding a galaxy. With new tools and simulations, researchers have learned that the CGM helps a galaxy recycle its materials. 

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

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