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Astronomers discover oldest ‘dead’ galaxy ever observed

Using the James Webb Space Telescope, astronomers have spotted a ‘dead’ galaxy formed when the universe was just 700 million years old

 A false-color image obtained by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) shows the galaxy JADES-GS-z7-01-QU, the universe's earliest-known dead galaxy, a galaxy that has stopped star formation,
A false-color image obtained by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) shows the galaxy JADES-GS-z7-01-QU, the universe's earliest-known dead galaxy, a galaxy that has stopped star formation, (via REUTERS)

Astronomers have spotted a galaxy that suddenly stopped forming new stars more than 13 billion years ago. Star formation in this galaxy seemed to have happened fast and stopped almost as quickly, the findings revealed.

An international team of astronomers led by the University of Cambridge used the James Webb Space Telescope to spot a ‘dead’ galaxy that formed when the universe was just 700 million years old, the oldest such galaxy ever observed. The team haven’t been able to figure out whether this galaxy’s state is temporary or permanent, and what caused it to stop forming new stars, the university’s press statement revealed.

Also read: Here's how astronomers witnessed a galaxy die

Using data from JADES (JWST Advanced Deep Extragalactic Survey), the astronomers found out that this galaxy experienced a short but intense period of star formation over a period between 30 and 90 million years. However, between 10 and 20 million years before it was observed by Webb, star formation suddenly stopped.

Although astronomers have observed dead galaxies before in the early universe, this galaxy is the oldest yet – just 700 million years after the Big Bang, which took place more than 13 billion years ago. The findings, published in the journal Nature, could help astronomers better understand how and why galaxies stop forming new stars, and whether the factors affecting star formation have changed over the years, the statement elaborated.

“The first few hundred million years of the universe was a very active phase, with lots of gas clouds collapsing to form new stars,” first author Tobias Looser said in the statement “Galaxies need a rich supply of gas to form new stars, and the early universe was like an all-you-can-eat buffet.”

According to astronomers, star formation can slow down or stop due to factors such as if a supermassive black hole pushes gas out of the galaxy or gas is consumed very quickly by star formation, without being promptly replenished by fresh gas from the surroundings of the galaxy, resulting in galaxy starvation.

The researchers are looking for similar galaxies in the early universe, which will help understand how and why galaxies stop forming new stars.

Also read: Webb telescope captures stunning images of 19 spiral galaxies

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