Some of the coolest discoveries made by NASA — like the personality of Martian soil, for instance — are often so small in scale that it’s easy to forget just how big many things in space really are. A new discovery made by researchers working with data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory helps put things in perspective. The group just reported its findings of an absolutely colossal “tsunami” of hot gas cruising through the nearby Perseus Galaxy Cluster, and it’s so big that the wave alone absolutely dwarfs our entire galaxy.
The researchers findings, which is slated to be published in the June 2017 issue of Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, suggests that a flyby of a smaller galaxy cluster billions of years ago essentially stirred up the gas of the Perseus cluster, creating a swirling formation in which the colossal wave formed.
The wave is thought to measure some 200,000 light-years across, which is about double the size of our own Milky Way. It’s categorized as a Kelvin-Helmholtz wave, which essentially means that its creation was a byproduct of an instability between mismatched fluids, and that its size is a direct result of the strength of the magnetic field of the cluster itself. The wave will eventually dissipate, but not for many millions of years.
But before you start wringing your hands over the admittedly creepy images NASA has provided to illustrate the discovery, you should know that Perseus is a whopping 250 million light years from Earth, and the gas tsunami, while intimidating in a simulation, is essentially just a a far-off galaxy cluster blowing off a bit of steam, and nothing that could affect Earth.