Astronomers have discovered the oldest 'dead' galaxy in the distant universe

(CNN) — Astronomers have discovered the oldest “dead” galaxy ever observed while studying the universe with the James Webb Space Telescope, and it's one of the deepest views of the distant universe ever made with the observatory.

The galaxy existed when the universe was only about 700 million years old of its current age of 13.8 billion years. But the galaxy suddenly stopped star formation 13 billion years ago, just as star birth began, and researchers still haven't figured out why.

A report detailing the discovery appeared in Wednesday's journal Nature. According to the authors, studying the galaxy will reveal new insights into the early universe and the factors that influence star formation within galaxies.

“The first few hundred million years of the Universe were a very active phase, with many gas clouds collapsing to form new stars,” lead author of the study Tobias Loeser, a doctoral student in extragalactic astrophysics at the institute, said in a statement. Cosmology by Kavli at the University of Cambridge. “Galaxies need rich gas to form new stars, and the early universe was like an all-you-can-eat buffet.”

The research team was surprised to find a dead galaxy that lived so fast and died young so soon after the Big Bang that created the universe.

A new image taken by the James Webb Space Telescope reveals a “dead” galaxy called JADES-GS-z7-01-QU in the distant universe. Jades collaboration

“Usually late in the universe we start to see galaxies stop forming stars because of a black hole or something else,” said study co-author Dr Francesco D'Eugenio. Astronomical Institute, in a statement.

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What causes the death of stars?

Star formation ceases when environmental factors deprive a galaxy of the gas it needs to support the birth of new stars.

Violent interactions of supermassive black holes or stars can cause gas to be ejected from galaxies and star formation to rapidly cease. Or, a star's birth process may consume so much gas that it doesn't have time to replenish enough to ensure that the process continues into the future.

“We don't know if any of those scenes can explain what we just saw with the web,” said Roberto Maiolino, professor of experimental astrophysics at the Cavendish Laboratory and the Kavli Institute of Cosmology at the University of Cambridge. In a statement.

“Until now, we've been using models based on the modern universe to understand the early universe. But now we can look so far back in time and see that star formation in this galaxy died so quickly that models based on the modern universe may have to be revised,” Maiolino added.

Webb's observations revealed that the newly discovered galaxy JADES-GS-z7-01-QU experienced a brief, energetic burst of star formation that lasted 30 to 90 million years before the star was born.

“Everything seems to be happening fast and dramatically in the early universe, and that includes galaxies going from a star-forming phase to a quiescent or quenched phase,” Loser said.

An unusual observation

The dead galaxy revealed by the study is not the first galaxy astronomers have discovered, but it is the oldest ever observed.

What's more, like a dwarf galaxy near the Milky Way called the Small Magellanic Cloud, the galaxy has a low mass, which still produces new stars. The previously observed dead galaxies are massive, adding another wrinkle to Webb's discovery.

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The newly discovered galaxy is billions of light years away from Earth. A light year is the distance a light ray travels in one year, or more than 9.46 trillion kilometers. So Webb is observing the galaxy as it was in the past, and astronomers haven't ruled out the possibility that it has essentially been resurrected and restarted star formation.

“We're looking for other galaxies like this in the early universe, which could help put some constraints on how and why galaxies stop forming new stars,” Di Eugenio said. “It's possible that galaxies in the early universe 'died' and then came back to life; more observations will be needed to help us figure this out.”

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