NASA's Hubble telescope helps scientists solve mystery of dead galaxies

www.cnet.com
3 min read
fairly easy
Why did some galaxies from the early universe suddenly stop making stars? Astronomers look back in time to find out.
ESA/Hubble & NASA, A. Newman, M. Akhshik, K. Whitaker

As mere mortals, we yearn to travel back in time -- an obsession nourished by iconic contraptions such as Marty McFly's car, Hermione Granger's time turner and Doctor Who's police box. Often forgotten, however, are the real-life astronomers who kind of already do it.

Recently, one such research team tapped time travel to solve a space mystery from billions of years ago using a unique combination of super sensitive telescopes: Why did some of the early universe's galaxies strangely stop popping out stars and become inactive, or quiescent?

Galaxies are thought to be at the pinnacle of their star manufacturing potential at this moment in time, so it's especially puzzling when we discover any that are dormant. Right now, they should be making more stars than ever.

"The most massive galaxies in our universe formed incredibly early, just after the Big Bang happened," Kate Whitaker, a professor of astronomy at University of Massachusetts-Amherst and lead author of a new study, said in a statement. "But for some reason, they have shut down. They're no longer forming new stars."

It turns out, some old galaxies merely ran low on star fuel, or cold gas, early on in their lifetimes. The results of the group's study were published Wednesday in the journal Nature and could rewrite our knowledge of how the universe evolved.

But hold on, you're probably still…
Monisha Ravisetti
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