The Perseus Cluster’s Bay

The Perseus cluster is a group of galaxies in the constellation Perseus. When viewed in x-ray, the cluster includes a concave feature known as the “bay”, shown in the white oval of the upper left image. A recent study uses x-ray and radio observations and computer simulations to argue that this feature is, in fact, a Kelvin-Helmholtz wave, like the breaking wave clouds that appear here on Earth.

The simulations start with a cluster similar to Perseus, with a “cold” core of gas about 30 million degrees Celsius and an outer gas region about three times hotter. A second galaxy cluster moves by, just grazing Perseus, and sets its cold gas to sloshing in an expanding spiral. After about 2.5 billion years, the difference in velocity between the cold and hot gases results in a Kelvin-Helmholtz wave near the outer arm of the spiral. One such simulation is shown in the upper right. The Kelvin-Helmholtz wave forms near the end of the cycle at a roughly 2 o’clock position. 

If the bay is, in fact, a Kelvin-Helmholtz roll, then this is fluid dynamics on an almost unimaginable scale. That wave is about 160 thousand light-years across! (Image credits: Perseus cluster and movie – Chandra X-Ray Observatory; simulation – John ZuHone/Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics; research credit: S. Walker et al.; via Vince D.)

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