The European Space Agency (ESA) has captured an astonishing image of a dying galaxy with the Hubble Space Telescope.
Many galaxies are known to have 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, making it look like a bundle of cosmic clouds.
Faint remnants of these spirals can still be seen in the image, but without the material to form new stars, the galaxy is unlikely to last much longer – it will eventually disappear.
Generally speaking, it takes a while for the galaxy to die. For example, the Milky Way will remain active for at least billions of years due to the surrounding dwarf galaxies. They merge with ours and feed it with fresh stars, as well as hydrogen.
ESA notes that NGC 1947 was discovered nearly 200 years ago, floating in space about 40 million light-years from Earth, and can only be seen in the southern hemisphere in the constellation Dorado.
The death of a galaxy is spectacular, but generally rare. In January of this year, astronomers observed galaxy ID2299 losing 10,000 Suns of gas every year, creating stars faster than our own Milky Way galaxy. But, without the ability to replenish this material, it will eventually go out on its own.
Other peculiar galaxies have recently been discovered. For example, NASA spoke about a galaxy that erupts every 114 days. Perhaps this is due to the existence of a supermassive black hole in the center of the star cluster, devouring a rotating giant star.