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Galactic collision creates huge particle collider

Jet shoots out of crash among four galaxy clusters

4:01pm, June 5, 2014

CLUSTER COLLISION  As four galaxy clusters collide, gas (blue) heated to many millions of degrees Celsius fills the space between galaxies. Charged particles move near the speed of light along a jet (red, center) that is 2.5 million light-years long. The image is a composite of data from the Very Large Array, Chandra X-Ray Observatory and Hubble Space Telescope.

BOSTON — A galactic pileup 5 billion light-years away is building a powerful particle accelerator, up to a million times as strong as Earth’s mightiest, the Large Hadron Collider. New images from the Very Large Array and Chandra X-ray Observatory, presented June 3 at the American Astronomical Society meeting, reveal a colossal collision driving a fountain of charged particles 2.5 million light-years into intergalactic space.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe, said Reinout van Weeren of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics at a press conference. Astronomers think that large clusters, which house thousands of galaxies, build up over billions of years as smaller clusters collide.  

The newly imaged jet sits at the heart of what van Weeren called “the most complex cluster collision known.” Four smaller

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