Space blob sheds light on cosmic evolution
 March 7, 2001       Web posted at: 3:09 PM EST (2009 GMT)
   (CNN) -- 
Gas in galactic group burns in hot greens and hotter reds and purples
(CNN) -- A green, red and purple blob of stars in deep space, spotted by the most powerful X-ray orbiting telescope, could offer clues about why galaxies tend to herd with one another over time.

The colorful object is actually the sizzling hot core of a small pack of galaxies, viewed in remarkable detail by the Chandra X-ray Observatory.

The gas between galaxies in such groups burns at roughly 10 million degrees Celsius, too hot for an optical telescope to handle but ideal for the X-ray vision of Chandra.

The purples and reds in the center reveal the highest X-ray emissions in this group, known as HCG 62. The greens indicate less bright regions.

HCG 62 could represent a missing link between the early and late evolution of the universe, according to Chandra scientists, who released the image this week.

Astronomers speculate that when the universe was young galaxies began to congregate in small groups similar to HCG 62. Later such groups perhaps combine with their peers to form larger galaxy clusters, the largest known objects in the universe.

Most stars in the cosmos reside in galactic groups or small clusters. Our own Milky Way is a member of the aptly named Local Group, along with two dozen other galaxies such as Andromeda and the Magellanic Clouds.

Launched in 1999, Chandra offers the most detailed X-ray observations ever of the heavens. The NASA observatory is operated by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.