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Warm Gas Pours 'Cold Water' on Galaxys Star-Making

Some like it hot, but for creating new stars, a cool cosmic environment is ideal. As a new study suggests, a surge of warm gas into a nearby galaxy -- left over from the devouring of a separate galaxy -- has extinguished star formation by agitating the available chilled gas.

The unique findings illustrate a new dimension to galaxy evolution, and come courtesy of the European Space Agency's Herschel space observatory, in which NASA played a key role, and NASA's Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes.

Astronomers want to understand why galaxies in the local universe fall into two major categories: younger, star-forming spirals (like our own Milky Way), and older ellipticals, in which fresh star making has ceased. The new study's galaxy, NGC 3226, occupies a transitional middle ground, so getting a bead on its star formation is critical.

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