These “dead” galaxies were spotted using gravity as a target.

As is the case with living creatures, celestial bodies like stars, planets, and even black holes flourish, live, age, and then die. Some of these astronomical objects, again like living creatures, seem to be disappearing before their time is right. In a new study published in the journal Nature, a team of astronomers reports six of these objects. These “dead” galaxies stopped producing stars long before their peers.

Committed reported the half-dozen dead galaxies, which astronomers discovered using the Hubble Space Telescope and the Atacama Large Millimeter / Sub-Millimeter Array (or ALMA) in northern Chile. Using terrestrial and space telescopes, astronomers observed six distant and massive galaxies; those who are strongly “gravitationally lensed” by a cluster of galaxies between themselves and us here on Earth.

NASA / Joseph DePasquale (STScI)

As NASA explains, astronomers could gain an inordinate glimpse of galaxies thanks to this gravitational lens phenomenon. As the name suggests, the gravitational lens can occur when an incredibly huge amount of matter, like a cluster of galaxies, creates a strong gravitational field. The one which, in turn, distorts and amplifies the light coming from the objects behind. Indeed, the gravitational field becomes a huge telescope lens.

Astronomers have used such a “lens” to observe “dead” galaxies from when the universe was three billion years old. The nickname “death” describes the fact that these galaxies no longer have the cold hydrogen gas needed to make stars. Without gas, there is no cluster of matter that eventually leads to the formation of a star.

False-color images of distant dead galaxies that have been magnified by the gravitational lensing effect.

NASA / Joseph DePasquale (STScI)

“At this point in our universe, all galaxies should form a lot of stars. This is the peak time of star formation, ”lead author Kate Whitaker said in a NASA article. Whitaker, assistant professor of astronomy at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, then asked the question: “[W]What happened to all the cold gas in these galaxies so early? “

Unfortunately, astronomers still don’t know why these galaxies stopped star formation relatively early. However, there are a lot of options on the table. Whitaker speculates that black holes in the centers of galaxies may have ignited and heated up all the hydrogen gas, possibly pushing it out into space. Or maybe these galaxies in particular never had a lot of star-making fuel. Either way, we wouldn’t be surprised if NASA ends up spotting “dancing ghosts” emanating from galaxies.

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