Intergalactic dust

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Intergalactic dust is cosmic dust in between galaxies in intergalactic space. [1] Evidence for intergalactic dust has been suggested as early as 1949, and study of it grew throughout the late 20th century. [1] There are large variations in the distribution of intergalactic dust. [1] The dust may affect intergalactic distance measurements, such as to supernovae and quasars in other galaxies. [2]


Intergalactic dust can form intergalactic dust clouds, known since the 1960s to exist around some galaxies. [1] By the 1980s, at least four intergalactic dust clouds had been discovered within several megaparsecs of the Milky Way galaxy, [1] exemplified by the Okroy cloud. [1]

In February 2014, NASA announced a greatly upgraded database for tracking polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in the universe. According to scientists, more than 20% of the carbon in the universe may be associated with PAHs, possible starting materials for the formation of life. PAHs seem to have been formed as early as two billion years after the Big Bang, are widespread throughout the universe, and are associated with new stars and exoplanets. [3]

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Galaxy Gravitationally bound astronomical structure

A galaxy is a gravitationally bound system of stars, stellar remnants, interstellar gas, dust, and dark matter. The word is derived from the Greek galaxias (γαλαξίας), literally "milky", a reference to the Milky Way. Galaxies range in size from dwarfs with just a few hundred million stars to giants with one hundred trillion stars, each orbiting its galaxy's center of mass.

Interstellar cloud Accumulation of gas, plasma, and dust in space

An interstellar cloud is generally an accumulation of gas, plasma, and dust in our and other galaxies. Put differently, an interstellar cloud is a denser-than-average region of the interstellar medium (ISM), the matter and radiation that exists in the space between the star systems in a galaxy. Depending on the density, size, and temperature of a given cloud, its hydrogen can be neutral, making an H I region; ionized, or plasma making it an H II region; or molecular, which are referred to simply as molecular clouds, or sometime dense clouds. Neutral and ionized clouds are sometimes also called diffuse clouds. An interstellar cloud is formed by the gas and dust particles from a red giant in its later life.

Nebula Interstellar cloud of dust, hydrogen, helium and other ionized gases

A nebula is a distinct body of interstellar clouds. Originally, the term was used to describe any diffused astronomical object, including galaxies beyond the Milky Way. The Andromeda Galaxy, for instance, was once referred to as the Andromeda Nebula before the true nature of galaxies was confirmed in the early 20th century by Vesto Slipher, Edwin Hubble and others. Edwin Hubble discovered that most nebulae are associated with stars and illuminated by starlight. He also helped categorize nebulae based on the type of light spectra they produced.

Star formation is the process by which dense regions within molecular clouds in interstellar space, sometimes referred to as "stellar nurseries" or "star-forming regions", collapse and form stars. As a branch of astronomy, star formation includes the study of the interstellar medium (ISM) and giant molecular clouds (GMC) as precursors to the star formation process, and the study of protostars and young stellar objects as its immediate products. It is closely related to planet formation, another branch of astronomy. Star formation theory, as well as accounting for the formation of a single star, must also account for the statistics of binary stars and the initial mass function. Most stars do not form in isolation but as part of a group of stars referred as star clusters or stellar associations.

Galactic astronomy

Galactic astronomy is the study of the Milky Way galaxy and all its contents. This is in contrast to extragalactic astronomy, which is the study of everything outside our galaxy, including all other galaxies.

Astronomy Scientific study of celestial objects and phenomena

Astronomy is a natural science that studies celestial objects and phenomena. It uses mathematics, physics, and chemistry in order to explain their origin and evolution. Objects of interest include planets, moons, stars, nebulae, galaxies, and comets. Relevant phenomena include supernova explosions, gamma ray bursts, quasars, blazars, pulsars, and cosmic microwave background radiation. More generally, astronomy studies everything that originates beyond Earth's atmosphere. Cosmology is a branch of astronomy that studies the universe as a whole.

Interstellar medium Matter and radiation in the space between the star systems in a galaxy

In astronomy, the interstellar medium (ISM) is the matter and radiation that exist in the space between the star systems in a galaxy. This matter includes gas in ionic, atomic, and molecular form, as well as dust and cosmic rays. It fills interstellar space and blends smoothly into the surrounding intergalactic space. The energy that occupies the same volume, in the form of electromagnetic radiation, is the interstellar radiation field.

Astrochemistry is the study of the abundance and reactions of molecules in the Universe, and their interaction with radiation. The discipline is an overlap of astronomy and chemistry. The word "astrochemistry" may be applied to both the Solar System and the interstellar medium. The study of the abundance of elements and isotope ratios in Solar System objects, such as meteorites, is also called cosmochemistry, while the study of interstellar atoms and molecules and their interaction with radiation is sometimes called molecular astrophysics. The formation, atomic and chemical composition, evolution and fate of molecular gas clouds is of special interest, because it is from these clouds that solar systems form.

Outer space Void between celestial bodies

Outer space, commonly shortened to space, is the expanse that exists beyond Earth and its atmosphere and between celestial bodies. Outer space is not completely empty—it is a hard vacuum containing a low density of particles, predominantly a plasma of hydrogen and helium, as well as electromagnetic radiation, magnetic fields, neutrinos, dust, and cosmic rays. The baseline temperature of outer space, as set by the background radiation from the Big Bang, is 2.7 kelvins. The plasma between galaxies is thought to account for about half of the baryonic (ordinary) matter in the universe, having a number density of less than one hydrogen atom per cubic metre and a temperature of millions of kelvins. Local concentrations of matter have condensed into stars and galaxies. Studies indicate that 90% of the mass in most galaxies is in an unknown form, called dark matter, which interacts with other matter through gravitational but not electromagnetic forces. Observations suggest that the majority of the mass-energy in the observable universe is dark energy, a type of vacuum energy that is poorly understood. Intergalactic space takes up most of the volume of the universe, but even galaxies and star systems consist almost entirely of empty space.


Cosmochemistry or chemical cosmology is the study of the chemical composition of matter in the universe and the processes that led to those compositions. This is done primarily through the study of the chemical composition of meteorites and other physical samples. Given that the asteroid parent bodies of meteorites were some of the first solid material to condense from the early solar nebula, cosmochemists are generally, but not exclusively, concerned with the objects contained within the Solar System.

Interplanetary medium Material which fills the Solar System

The interplanetary medium (IPM) or interplanetary space consists of the mass and energy which fills the Solar System, and through which all the larger Solar System bodies, such as planets, dwarf planets, asteroids, and comets, move. The IPM stops at the heliopause, outside of which the interstellar medium begins. Before 1950, interplanetary space was widely considered to either be an empty vacuum, or consisting of "aether".

Cosmic dust Dust floating in space

Cosmic dust, also called extraterrestrial dust or space dust, is dust which exists in outer space, or has fallen on Earth. Most cosmic dust particles measure between a few molecules and 0.1 mm. Larger particles are called meteoroids. Cosmic dust can be further distinguished by its astronomical location: intergalactic dust, interstellar dust, interplanetary dust and circumplanetary dust.

Interplanetary dust cloud Small particles between planets

The interplanetary dust cloud, or zodiacal cloud, consists of cosmic dust that pervades the space between planets within planetary systems, such as the Solar System. This system of particles has been studied for many years in order to understand its nature, origin, and relationship to larger bodies.

PAH world hypothesis Hypothesis about the origin of life

The PAH world hypothesis is a speculative hypothesis that proposes that polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), known to be abundant in the universe, including in comets, and assumed to be abundant in the primordial soup of the early Earth, played a major role in the origin of life by mediating the synthesis of RNA molecules, leading into the RNA world. However, as yet, the hypothesis is untested.

Atomic and molecular astrophysics

Atomic astrophysics is concerned with performing atomic physics calculations that will be useful to astronomers and using atomic data to interpret astronomical observations. Atomic physics plays a key role in astrophysics as astronomers' only information about a particular object comes through the light that it emits, and this light arises through atomic transitions.

Extraterrestrial materials

Extraterrestrial material refers to natural objects now on Earth that originated in outer space. Such materials include cosmic dust and meteorites, as well as samples brought to Earth by sample return missions from the Moon, asteroids and comets, as well as solar wind particles.

Interstellar ice consists of grains of volatiles in the ice phase that form in the interstellar medium. Ice and dust grains form the primary material out of which the Solar System was formed. Grains of ice are found in the dense regions of molecular clouds, where new stars are formed. Temperatures in these regions can be as low as 10 K, allowing molecules that collide with grains to form an icy mantle. Thereafter, atoms undergo thermal motion across the surface, eventually forming bonds with other atoms. This results in the formation of water and methanol. Indeed, the ices are dominated by water and methanol, as well as ammonia, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. Frozen formaldehyde and molecular hydrogen may also be present. Found in lower abundances are nitriles, ketones, esters and carbonyl sulfide. The mantles of interstellar ice grains are generally amorphous, only becoming crystalline in the presence of a star.


SAFIR is a proposed NASA space observatory for far-infrared light. The plan calls for a single large mirror 5–10 meters (16–33 ft) in diameter, cryogenically cooled to 5 kelvins. This would feed detector arrays sensitive from 5 to 1000 µm. The possibility of servicing such a telescope in space has been evaluated.

2-Methylnaphthalene Chemical compound

2-Methylnaphthalene is a polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH).

NGC 4522 Edge-on spiral galaxy in the constellation of Virgo

NGC 4522 is an edge-on spiral galaxy located about 60 million light-years away within the Virgo Cluster in the constellation Virgo. NGC 4522 is losing its molecular gas though ram-pressure stripping as it plows though the cluster at a speed of more than 10 million kilometres per hour. The galaxy was discovered by astronomer John Herschel on January 18, 1828.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 M. E. Bailey; D. A. Williams (1988). Dust in the universe: the proceedings of a conference at the Department of Astronomy, University of Manchester, 14–18 December 1987. CUP Archive. p. 509. ISBN   978-0-521-35580-3.
  2. Atkinson, Nancy (February 26, 2009). "Intergalactic Dust Could Be Messing Up Observations, Calculations". Universe Today. Retrieved December 13, 2021.
  3. Hoover, Rachel (February 21, 2014). "Need to Track Organic Nano-Particles Across the Universe? NASA's Got an App for That". NASA . Retrieved February 22, 2014.