You might have all heard about black holes, or the theories regarding the death of the Universe which imply that galaxies, solar systems and even atoms will be torn apart in the distant future. That’s not the case here, since astronomers and astrophysicists can’t explain for sure why galaxies 65 million light-years away from Earth are being destroyed by mysterious and very powerful forces. Thus, the galaxies are becoming incapable of forming new stars, which is very odd.
Virgo Cluster is the place
If you want to see the strange event for yourself, all you have to do is to pack your bags, invent a space ship way faster than light and travel 65 million light-years to the Virgo Cluster, the home for many galaxies which are locked into orbit around each other and interact in an unlucky way.
In an article for The Conversation, Toby Brown, a post-doctorate fellow in astrophysics at McMaster University, wrote: ‘Where galaxies live in the Universe and how they interact with their surroundings and each other are major influences on their ability to form stars. But precisely how this so-called environment dictates the life and death of galaxies remains a mystery.
‘Galaxy clusters are the most massive and most extreme environments in the Universe, containing many hundreds or even thousands of galaxies. Where you have mass, you also have gravity and the huge gravitational forces present in clusters accelerates galaxies to great speeds, often thousands of kilometers-per-second, and superheats the plasma in between galaxies to temperatures so high that it glows with X-ray light.
‘In the dense, inhospitable interiors of these clusters, galaxies interact strongly with their surroundings and with each other. It is these interactions that can kill off – or quench – their star formation.’
Are the galaxies really dying?
Most of you might believe the title of this article is an exaggeration, but no it’s not. According to scientists, a galaxy is dying when the rate of the stellar birth slows down or stops completely. Instead, the galaxy is alive when many stars are being born.
Toby Brown proposes a theory
Brown continued: ‘As galaxies fall through clusters, the intergalactic plasma can rapidly remove their gas in a violent process called ram pressure stripping. When you remove the fuel for star formation, you effectively kill the galaxy, turning it into a dead object in which no new stars are formed.
‘In addition, the high temperature of clusters can stop hot gas cooling and condense onto galaxies. In this case, the gas in the galaxy isn’t actively removed by the environment but is consumed as it forms stars. This process leads to a slow, inexorable shut down in star formation known, somewhat morbidly, as starvation or strangulation.
The activity from the Virgo Cluster will be examined closely during a project called the Virgo Environment Traced in Carbon Monoxide survey (VERTICO). The hydrogen gas between 51 galaxies from the cluster will be analyzed.