The European Space Agency (ESA) has captured an astonishing image of a dying galaxy using the Hubble Space Telescope.
Many galaxies are known for having huge spirals around their arms, curving into a circular shape; but NGC 1947, as the galaxy is called, has lost almost all the gas and dust from its limbs, leaving it looking like a wisp of cosmic cloud.
The faint remnants of those spirals can still be seen in the image, but without material to form new stars it is unlikely that the galaxy will survive for much longer – eventually fading over time.
Generally speaking, it takes some time for a galaxy to die; the Milky Way galaxy will remain active for at least billions of years – the lifetime of our Sun – because of surrounding dwarf galaxies which merge with our own and feed it with fresh stars, as well as hydrogen.
NGC 1947 was discovered almost 200 years ago, floating in space approximately 40 million light-years away, and can only be seen from the southern hemisphere in the constellation Dorado, the ESA notes.
The death of a galaxy is a spectacular, but generally rare, event to spot. In January this year, astronomers watched a galaxy lose 10,000 Suns-worth of gas each year – creating stars at a faster rate than our own Milky Way galaxy. But with no way to replete the material, it will eventually extinguish itself.
Astronomers think that the dramatic death was caused by a collision with another galaxy, when two combined to form ID2299 – the one visible by astronomers.
Other peculiar galaxies have also been recently recently discovered: Nasa spotted a galaxy that erupts every 114 days, possibly due to the existence of a supermassive black hole at the centre of the star cluster that is consuming an orbiting giant star.
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