An ancient, dying galaxy could help astronomers learn more about the Milky Way

This galaxy is pining for the Fjords

Astronomers consider galaxies to be either alive or dead, depending on whether or not a given group is still producing new stars. Stellar groupings where star formation has significantly slowed, but not yet stopped, are classified as quenching galaxies. These objects are not as bright as active galaxies, but are not as dark as dead families of stars. This classification assists astrophysicists in study of galaxies throughout the Cosmos.

An unusual finding revealed that one galaxy, with a fully-formed core, was already dying just 1.5 billion years after the Big Bang.

The red galaxy near the center of this image was already dying 12 billion years ago, making it the oldest such object yet found. Image credit: NAOJ/M. Tanaka

“This result pairs up with the fact that, when these dying gigantic systems were still alive and forming stars, they might have not been that extreme compared with the average population of galaxies,” explains Francesco Valentino, assistant professor at the Cosmic Dawn Center at the Niels Bohr Institute.

Our own Milky Way is still very much alive, as stars are being born throughout our galaxy. However, not far from us is M87, a dead galaxy that is home to a behemoth black hole recently photographed by researchers utilizing a global network of radio telescopes. The presence of this behemoth supermassive black hole — much larger than the one at the center of the Milky Way — could have played a significant role in the demise of the galaxy, researchers suggest.

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