Hubble Probes the Invisible Halo of a Galaxy
Distant quasars serve as distant lighthouse beacons that shine through the gas-rich "fog" of hot plasma encircling galaxies. At ultraviolet wavelengths, Hubble's Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS) is sensitive to absorption from many ionized heavy elements, such as nitrogen, oxygen, and neon. COS's high sensitivity allows many galaxies that happen to lie in front of the much more distant quasars to be studied. The ionized heavy elements serve as proxies for estimating how much mass is in a galaxy's halo.