One of the most complicated and dramatic collisions between galaxy clusters ever seen is captured in this new composite image. This collision site, known officially as Abell 2744, has been dubbed "Pandora's Cluster" because of the wide variety of different structures seen. Data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory are colored red, showing gas with temperatures of millions of degrees. In blue is a map showing the total mass concentration (mostly dark matter) based on data from the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (VLT), and the Japanese Subaru telescope. Optical data from HST and VLT also show the constituent galaxies of the clusters.
The "core" region shows a bullet-shaped structure in the X-ray emitting hot gas and a separation between the hot gas and the dark matter. (As a guide, local peaks in the distribution of hot gas and overall matter in the different regions are shown with red and blue circles respectively). This separation occurs because electric forces between colliding particles in the clouds of hot gas create a friction that slows them down, while dark matter is unaffected by such forces.
In the Northwest ("NW") region, a much larger separation is seen between the hot gas and the dark matter. Surprisingly, the hot gas leads the "dark" clump (mostly dark matter) by about 500,000 light years. This unusual configuration may require a slingshot scenario, as suggested previously by scientists, to fling the hot gas ahead of the dark matter during an earlier interaction. In the North ("N") and the West ("W") two additional examples of hot gas separated from dark matter may be visible. The latter appears to exhibit the largest separation seen to date between hot gas and dark matter.
-Megan Watzke, CXC