While supermassive black holes are fattening themselves with their steady diet of cosmic meals, a theft of cosmic proportions is taking place in a galaxy far, far away, in an effort to claim the fountain of youth.
Yes, Virginia, it’s just like someone is stealing your supply Glutathione, a nutrient recently advertised as the solution to looking young.
NASA announced that it has located a massive galaxy that is stealing a billion suns’ worth of gas from a smaller galactic neighbor. In space, gas is a hot commodity. Really hot. In this case, about 1,340 degrees Fahrenheit (730 degrees Celsius). And it’s great for making new stars.
“We may be viewing the larger galaxy in a rare, brief stage of its reincarnation from an old galaxy to a youthful one studded with brilliant stars,” said Patrick Ogle of NASA’s Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology.
The robber, called 3C 326 North, is about the mass of our Milky Way galaxy, and its victim, 3C 326 South, is about half its mass. They are close enough to perturb each other gravitationally and might eventually collide. Such galaxy mergers are common in the universe: Gas and stars in two nearby galaxies become tangled until they become one larger galaxy. The case of 3C 326 is the clearest example yet of large quantities of gas being heated and siphoned from one galaxy to another.
“This could be an important phase in galaxy mergers that we are just now witnessing,” Ogle said.
The scene of the crime is about a billion light-years away. So in reality, the theft took place a billion years ago, but the light revealing it has only just arrived on Earth.
Like life on Earth, galaxies can “eat” each other and evolve over time. The Milky Way’s neighbor, Andromeda, is currently dining on one of its satellites. More than a dozen star clusters are scattered throughout Andromeda, the cosmic remains of past meals. The image above is from a simulation of Andromeda and our galaxy colliding, an event that will take place in about 3 billion years.