This animation shows the method used to probe the gas around distant galaxies. Astronomers can use tools such as Hubble’s Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS) to probe faint galactic envelopes by exploiting even more distant objects — quasars, the intensely luminous centres of distant galaxies powered by huge black holes.
As the light from the distant quasar passes through the galaxy’s halo, the gas absorbs certain frequencies – making it possible to study the region around the galaxy in detail.
This new research utilised Hubble’s COS to peer through the very thin outskirts of galactic halos, much further out than shown in this representation, to explore galactic gas at distances of up to twenty times greater than the visible size of the galaxy itself.
More information and download-options: http://www.spacetelescope.org/videos/heic1308a/
ESA, NASA, L. Calçada