Cosmic Pollution: Astronomers Show Galaxies Pump Out Contaminated Exhausts

Galaxy Outflow

Galaxies pump out contaminated exhausts. Credit: James Josephides, Swinburne Astronomical Productions

Research Reveals How Star-Making Pollutes the Cosmos

Galaxies pollute the environment they exist in, researchers have found.

A team of astronomers led by Alex Cameron and Deanne Fisher from the ARC Centre of Excellence for All Sky Astrophysics in 3 Dimensions (ASTRO 3D) used a new imaging system on at the WM Keck Observatory in Hawaii to confirm that what flows into a galaxy is a lot cleaner than what flows out.

The research is published today (August 30, 2021) in The Astrophysical Journal.

“Enormous clouds of gas are pulled into galaxies and used in the process of making stars,” said co-lead author Deanne Fisher, associate professor at the Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing at Swinburne University in Australia.

“On its way in it is made of hydrogen and helium. By using a new piece of equipment called the Keck Cosmic Web Imager, we were able to confirm that stars made from this fresh gas eventually drive a huge amount of material back out of the system, mainly through supernovas.

“But this stuff is no longer nice and clean – it contains lots of other elements, including oxygen, carbon, and iron.”

The process of atoms flooding into galaxies – known as ‘accretion’ – and their eventual expulsion – known as ‘outflows’ – is an important mechanism governing the growth, mass, and size of galaxies.

Until now, however, the composition of the inward and outward flows could only be guessed at. This research is the first time the full cycle has been confirmed in a galaxy other than the Milky Way.

To make their findings, the researchers focused on a galaxy called Mrk 1486, which lies about 500 light-years from the Sun and is going through a period of very rapid star formation.

“We found there is a very clear structure to how the gases enter and exit,” explained Dr. Alex Cameron, who has recently moved from University of Melbourne in Australia to the UK’s University of Oxford.

“Imagine the galaxy is a spinning frisbee. The gas enters relatively unpolluted from the cosmos outside, around the perimeter, and then condenses to form new stars. When those stars later explode, they push out other gas – now containing these other elements – through the top and bottom.”   

The elements – comprising more than half the Periodic Table – are forged deep inside the cores of the stars through nuclear fusion. When the stars collapse or go nova the results are catapulted into the Universe – where they form part of the matrix from which newer stars, planets, asteroids and, in at least one instance, life emerges.

Mrk 1486 was the perfect candidate for observation because it lies “edge-on” to Earth, meaning that the outflowing gas could be easily viewed, and its composition measured. Most galaxies sit at awkward angles for this type of research.

“This work is important for astronomers because for the first time we’ve been able to put limits on the forces that strongly influence how galaxies make stars,” added Professor Fisher.

“It takes us one step closer to understanding how and why galaxies look the way they do – and how long they will last.”

Reference: “The DUVET Survey: Direct Te-based metallicity mapping of metal-enriched outflows and metal-poor inflows in Mrk 1486″ by Alex J. Cameron, Deanne B. Fisher, Daniel McPherson, Glenn G. Kacprzak, Danielle A. Ber5, Alberto Bolatto, John Chisholm, Rodrigo Herrera-Camus, Nikole M. Nielsen, Bronwyn Reichardt Chu, Ryan J. Rickards Vaught, Karin Sandstrom and Michele Trenti, 30 August 2021, The Astrophysical Journal.
DOI: 10.3847/2041-8213/ac18ca

Other scientists contributing to the work are based at the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Maryland at College Park, and the University of California at San Diego – all in the US – plus the Universidad de Concepcion in Chile.

33 Comments on "Cosmic Pollution: Astronomers Show Galaxies Pump Out Contaminated Exhausts"

  1. Derek Duckitt | August 30, 2021 at 8:42 am | Reply

    Why call the byproducts of star formation pollution??? Are they saying that every element that isn’t Hydrogen and Helium is pollution? This is just headline grabbing nonsense!

    • It is an unconventional use of the word “pollution” and assigns a subjective interpretation to a natural process.

      Would any reasonable person claim that our mostly nitrogen atmosphere is polluted with oxygen? If the earliest anaerobic bacteria had been sentient, they might have viewed oxygen as a pollutant. However, to the major life forms today, it is essential, not an undesirable pollutant. Pollution is in the eye of the beholder. Speaking for the gods is hubris.

    • Torbjörn Larsson | August 30, 2021 at 11:59 am | Reply

      Why the conspiracy theory? Ii is used as an (helpful) analogy.

      • Clyde Spencer | August 30, 2021 at 4:06 pm | Reply

        I’m not sure of the point you are trying to make. What do you consider to be “religious magic?”

        Pointing out poor writing does not equate to a “conspiracy theory.”

        Is English your native language?

        • Torbjörn Larsson | August 31, 2021 at 1:06 pm | Reply

          “Would any reasonable person claim” aspires to a conspiracy theory, when it is a language issue. Ironically, since you then proceed to question reactions to your own comment.

          In any case your problem isn’t with science but with the superstition you quote and think other people heed (‘hubris’).

          Even if you want to reject the helpful analogy because you want the impurities to be harmful instead of just impurities, these non-hydrogen, non-helium elements have a complex relation to star formation. They shrink the stars and inside stars they proceed to “kill” them.

          But this has nothing to do with the science.

          • Clyde Spencer | September 2, 2021 at 12:37 pm |

            “Even if you want to reject the helpful analogy because you want the impurities to be harmful instead of just impurities, …”

            You are misinterpreting my intentions and attributing a desire on my part that is false. In fact, you have it backwards!

            You didn’t explicitly answer my question asking if English was your native language. However, your difficulty understanding English, written by someone who is a native speaker, confirms my suspicion. Your remarks about my use of “hubris” shows that you are unfamiliar with English idioms and rely on a literal translation.

            I would suggest that, in the future, you exercise more caution in criticizing what someone writes in English, and at least seek out an explanation before attacking them.

      • Clyde Spencer | August 30, 2021 at 4:17 pm | Reply

        “Ii [sic] is used as an (helpful) analogy.”

        “Contamination is the presence of a constituent, impurity, or some other undesirable element that spoils, corrupts, infects, MAKES UNFIT, or MAKES INFERIOR a material, physical body, natural environment, workplace, etc.”

        What is helpful about a poor analogy?

  2. Gpw Bernard Bautista Remetilla-26 | August 30, 2021 at 9:49 am | Reply

    Statement of Truth & Facts on the “Breathing Universe” and “How this Article: ‘Cosmic Pollution: Astronomers Show Galaxies Pump Out Contaminated Exhausts…
    (This refers to Publication Aug.30, 2021: Ref.: The DUVET Survey: Direct Te-based metallicity mapping of metal-enriched outflows and metal-poor inflows in Mrk 1486” 30 August 2021, The Astrophysical Journal. DOI: 10.3847/2041-8213/ac18ca) has been resolved in my [earlier Academia published Original Papers, etc., page 11, and so on :
    to prove that the Universe is breathing thru its Black Holes found in each center duality bio-thermodynamic field called ‘Vector Balancing Breathing Mechanism Field’ <>: which does the natural mathematical cleansing process; cyclic renewing the ‘refreshed Energy-In and Energy-out GTA/GTR (breathing system that is like each Human Being’s bio-thermodynamic breathing system to sustain, maintain each human life on Earth that is also breathing thru its dynamic motions of the Oceans!) – all this “mathematical (NRE) breathing system process of the Universe through its black holes is mathematically connected to Human Life in the Milky Way at the heart of the Solar System in order to protect all human beings on Earth.

    That is:

    The Universe breathes thru each Black Hole. Every Galaxy has Black Hole at its center. It is like a heart at the center of each human being. All Galaxies, around 500++ billion (in our only one Universe) & each has central Black Hole which: Frequency, Energy, Vibration & Active (+/-) NEG Force, generate breathing resonance of thermodynamic EM energy & active oscillation of refreshing wave & particle of web-filaments by which GTA & GTR creates renewable vitality of Life Force & Life Energy: Life Wave Field & Life Particles Field @ Earth’s 1.5 Vector Energy Field Balance.(SCD-6 that pervade the biological cycle of web-flow of life in the Universe!

    At micro-level, the Earth breathes thru its Black Hole; moreover, its Black Hole is the OCEANS (pls see Best Ref.: The Oceans Their Physics, Chemistry, and General Biology;) the Central Loop of Mathematical Vector Equilibrium Link between Human Being & all natural phenomena on Earth & in the Universe centering on human heart.

    The Black Hole is NOT the Black Hole that Mathematical Scientist Stephen Hawking & Rev. John Mitchell & others conceptualize in Modern Cosmology & Einstein Relativity; no, it is NOT. A cosmic Black Hole is a Vector Balancing Breathing Mechanism Field that revitalizes, neutralizes, re-normalizes the cosmic interactive galaxy’s GTA & GTR of Force & Energy Vector Action-Reaction Mechanism, that refreshes energy vitality elements being used by Galaxies in the Universe during (the Universe’s) metric expansion & breathing (Duality), is to protect the Milky Way, to provide the Solar System Family of Planets with refreshed energy vitalities, and finally to sustain, maintain & protect all biological needs of human life on Earth, in the Milky Way. The Milky Way has unique perfect Cosmic Attributes & so does the Solar System, all based on GOD’S Vector Symmetry Design Codes: SCD-6 & SCD-9 & so on…

    Therefore: What happens mathematically & scientifically in the natural phenomena process governing the Breathing Universe which is being protected from any ‘cosmic pollutions’ in a cycle manner like to that NRE Phenomena (New & Renewable Energy w/c is inexhaustible cleansing phenomena property or attribute of its sources/media: Sun, Oceans, Wind, etc., found on Earth?).

    Answer: The Universe Breathing Mechanism resolves, refreshes, eliminates any ‘cosmic pollutions’ thru its every Black Hole of each Galaxy, as follows –

    A Black Hole in its own vector field at the center has dual “Nostril-Hole”: In [Entrance] & Out [Exit: to the same Universe as refreshed/envigorated] Energy Inter-Exchange Dynamics during the Universe breathing thru every Black Hole as it balances to expand & expands to breathe! {mathematically connected to the Cosmos via the Heart GTA & GTR of human being): Inhale/Enter & Exhale/Exit , sample Model: Earth figuratively breathing at the same time (via Oceans) as Earth rotates & revolves relative to the Universe thru Earth’s Milky Way: to create cosmic active inter-action (GTA&GTR) of actively Refreshed Energy Vector FILAMENTS (EVF) to invigorate, balance the biological thermodynamics of: Wave & Particle Field of Frequency, Resonance (Vibration) & Energy (GTA & GTR) between Cosmos & the Universe @ 1.5 Cosmic Vector Energy Field Balance Mechanism to sustain protect human life on Earth via SCD-6 & SCD-9 operating thru Mathematical Principle No. 5 (MCP-NS:05) which both Inhale & Exhale Processes resonate with 432 Htz, (SCD-9) mathematically linked to 8 Hertz (Law of No. 8) in unified vector frequency via 7.83 Hertz (SCD-9) & 528 Hz (SCD-6) Duality-based binaural beat harmonic breathing @ the core of the Earth’s 1.5 Vector Energy Field Balance.(SCD-6) in 6 subtle vibrations (SCD-6). The natural process phenomena descripted above operates to cause the balancing GTA & GTR between Dark Energy (72%) & Dark Matter (24%) into a controlled metric expansion of the Physical Universe as synchronized w/ the Cosmos (Spirit World) thru Duality Code of Life: (432)Hz & (7.83) Hz based on  [(9), (9,6)]  SCD-9 & SCD-6 [GOD’S Symmetry Creation Design Codes] that mathematically breathes thru 1.5 Earth Vector Energy Field Balance & Equilibrium Matrix.
    – Gpw Bernard Bautista Rementilla

    • Torbjörn Larsson | August 30, 2021 at 12:01 pm | Reply

      And here I think you have taken the analogy for something it isn’t, and used it to add superstition.

  3. The term, pollution and or pollutant is subjective and framed by the context of the article. Anything that is not what a life form / plant / process does not want during a chemical or nuclear reaction and releases as waste can be, classified as a pollutant. It is recent societal norms that classify certain chemicals, elements as pollutants, based upon how it affects life on earth.

  4. “To make their findings, the researchers focused on a galaxy called Mrk 1486, which lies about 500 light-years from the Sun and is going through a period of very rapid star formation.” – Isn’t the closest galaxy to us ~ 2.5 million light-years away?

    • Torbjörn Larsson | August 30, 2021 at 12:11 pm | Reply

      🙂 Good catch! A search returns a SINBAD entry with z=0.0 33 [ ], which is ~ 500 Mlyrs [million light years] away according to Ned Wrights cosmic calculator page.

      I think you may be thinking of the nearest large galaxy, Andromeda is 2.5 Mlyrs away. But the nearest still recognizable galaxy – i.e. is being pulled apart during merger with us – is teh Canis Major Dwarf.

      NASA: “The Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy is only 25,000 light years from the Sun, and 42,000 light years from the Galactic center. It too, is well-hidden by the dust in the plane of the Milky Way – which is why it wasn’t discovered until recently.

      This galaxy is also being pulled apart by the Milky Way’s gravity – as it orbits the Milky Way, it is leaving a long filament of stars, gas, and dust in its wake. This 200,000 light year-long filament is known as the Monoceros Ring, and actually wraps three times around our galaxy! The Canis Major Dwarf galaxy was discovered in the course of the investigation of this Ring, which was first discovered in 2002.”

  5. Julius Mazzarella | August 30, 2021 at 2:51 pm | Reply

    Huh?????? The title is nonsense. Pollution implies there is some negative impact to life. The author only knows of one instance of life so he is misusing the word. The Golden Age of Stupidity strikes again.

  6. Julius Mazzarella | August 30, 2021 at 2:57 pm | Reply

    no worries…generally this magazine has always has great articles. Kudos to the magazine

  7. Its nice to know that I’m made of Star vomit or sh*t depending on which side I came out.

  8. The heavier elements are pollutants because of their impact on possible future fusion events. Iron can’t be fused to produce energy, so it is a pollutant in a nuclear fusion context.

  9. And why couldn’t they measure this before with light from other galaxies.. Oh we measure wavelengths of light passing through atmospheres outside of our solar system but hey we cant di the same thing with these gases we would already tell you the composition of. No one else finds this odd. Can tell us what stars and gslacies at the edge of the observable universe are made if and gases emit light in every direction but no. We need an edge on view of a galaxy to see what the outflow is. As they also measure supernovas that are smaller and help drive these outflows. Like common sense says they shoulda known this along time ago if stars make certain things and then push away what they don’t use which they say they know. So why is this big news they just discovered?

    • Like for real Im not even a scientist or astronomer and I figured galaxies put out stuff and common sense says its what the galaxy doesn’t use and pushes out through stellar explosions or other forces and I have nothing to go in but info from previous discoveries and explanations they give in finding they should see very clearly if I do. Right?

      • Torbjörn Larsson | August 31, 2021 at 1:11 pm | Reply

        Wrong. You are speculating, scientists are observing, quantifying, making predictive hypotheses and test if the hypotheses are rejected or predict the observed quantities.

        It is hard work. But as long as you are speculating instead of studying the subject you wouldn’t know. Try to read this paper first.

  10. We need to get AOC up there to address the greenhouse effects that star creation is causing, and then blame Trump. I think we have a few more important issues to deal with, and spend research million$ on, right here at home, before worrying about space pollution. Can anyone fairly argue that world hunger, potable water, decent housing, healthcare, education, or a living wage for workers are all a bit more important that this?

    • Torbjörn Larsson | August 31, 2021 at 1:13 pm | Reply

      The society has argued, by investing in research, for *centuries* that studying everything in parallell is more important than false dichotomies of choosing this or that. For instance, it was the high energy physicists at CERN that invented the web. How many people would starve today if we couldn’t trade efficiently through the web?

  11. Everything is made of Hydrogen and Helium interacting. Isn’t that correct?

    • Torbjörn Larsson | August 31, 2021 at 1:16 pm | Reply

      The universe passed through a stage of big bang nucleosynthesis which mainly created hydrogen and helium, but no heavier elements than lithium. The rest of the elements were created mainly in stars and supernovas.

  12. Hopefully they can become a part of the new green deal.

  13. Well if it wasn’t for that
    “pollution” I believe we wouldn’t be here arguing about said pollution 😳

  14. And don’t forget Deuterium. I find it deeply interesting, that a black hole emits Hydrogen. The big question is bound to be: Does it emit both forms of Hydrogen?

  15. Deuterium. When discovering Hydrogen emit from a Black Hole, I really wonder if it is Hydrogen in its both forms.

  16. Hydrogen, Deuterium. Then we have: electron, proton and neutron, then Helium is created and then all the other atoms. My vision is, that a black hole is a refiner and it all ends up in a circle. A galaxy is feeding itself, just like an organism. That’s my private theory.

  17. Thesis: A galaxy is a cosmic organism.

  18. To your inf. My name’s Rasmus Rytter
    www rasmusrytter (dot) com

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