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Building Big Elliptical Galaxies’ Cores

Astronomers like galactic runts. It’s not that they’re cute — although the Large Magellanic Cloud is vaguely reminiscent of a fuzzy caterpillar. It’s that runts were likely the building blocks of the big galaxies we see today.The largest, most massive galaxies in the local universe are ellipticals, big golden clouds of stars that have burned through their star-forming gas reservoirs and now sit “quiescent,” enjoying old age. But about a decade ago, astronomers looking into the early universe discovered that quiescent galaxies 10 or 11 billion years ago were actually the smallest galaxies around, roughly one-tenth the size of today’s ellipticals and one-third (or less) that of the other star-forming galaxies at that epoch.

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