Changing Planet

Dying Galaxy Found Bleeding Out Into Space

This ultraviolet image of dwarf galaxy IC 3418 in the Virgo cluster shows a trail of fireballs of gas left behind it – evidence that a new study says points to the imminent death of this galaxy. Credit:NASA/JPL-Caltech/SDSS


A team of international astronomers are investigating what looks like the impending death of a dwarf galaxy 54 million light years away.

The scientists were clued in by a trail of fireballs streaming thousands of light years behind the small galaxy known as IC 3418.

The astronomers liken these bright blobs of gas, lit up by newly-formed stars, to the last drops of blood from the dying galaxy, draining out into space.

“We think we’re witnessing a critical stage in the transformation of a gas-rich dwarf irregular galaxy into a gas-poor dwarf elliptical galaxy—the depletion of its lifeblood,” said Jeffrey Kenney of Yale University, lead author of the yet-be-be published study in a press statement released this week at the 222nd meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Indianapolis.

“Until now, there has been no clear example of this transformation happening.”

The most vigorous phase of a galaxy’s life is spent as a giant star factory, pumping out generation after generation of countless of stars. But observers have found that once the inherent gas reservoir is depleted, the death process begins.

Using the WIYN 3.5-meter telescope in Arizona and the twin Keck 10-meter telescopes in Hawaii, astronomers were able to determine that IC 3418 has used up all its gas and is pretty much running on empty now.

“Stars, planets, and life can form only if a galaxy has gas to make them,” added Kenney.

What caused the traumatic wounds that led to this draining of gas?

A process called “ram pressure stripping” is the leading suspect in this cosmic crime. As gases mix between galaxies, huge pressure  builds. As a result, the gas within the galaxy is forced out and forms fireball features.

Kenny and his team now hope that by studying the death process of IC 3418  they will gain a better understanding of the full life cycle of all dwarf ellipticals—one of the universe’s most common type of galaxies. (Related: Dwarf Galaxy Found Secretly Feasting on Smaller Dwarf)

Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.
  • dAVID

    i didnt know planets had blood


    more intriguing info that doesnt suprise me

  • Kevin

    The galaxy in question is blue. I thought the blue ones were young? And this blue galaxy used up all its gas and is dying? Someone please enlighten me… shouldn’t it be red?

  • Kevin

    Never mind, I found it…

    “Young galaxies begin their lives as spiral galaxies, actively producing new stars, merging in other spiral or irregular galaxies, before beginning a new process of forming stars. Nevertheless, once the galaxy has depleted its fuel, the star forming process slows down and eventually stops, and the galaxy transforms into an elliptical red galaxy”

  • Stephanie LaPare

    Very interesting,also a very beautiful pic. I like the term that was used “depletion of its’ life blood”.I see in the image next to the #star_factory a few #spiral galaxies as well. Stellar image.


    stwap et gwuys………………………………..i lyk pei

  • Marcin


  • Jan Christian Buencamino

    Well, this is a bad news for the life giving planet on that certain “galaxy” if it does. -.-

    “ram pressure stripping” – noted 🙂

  • Sanjay Nath

    everything is revolving. The moon around the earth and around the orbit with earth. The planets around the sun the Sun in its orbit . and the galaxy around the black hole and comets , asteroids etc. and millions such other galaxies. I really want to know, is finally everything revolving uniformly around a space and gets back to the start point at some time ? Is someone mapping this space ? There is some end then.

  • razia bano

    What a picturusque scene ……..i wish to be there.

  • isha

    Great Information!! Thanks for sharing on twitter!

  • prof Giuseppe Gavazzi

    dear Fazekas,
    I am surprised of the sentence:
    “Until now, there has been no clear example of this transformation happening.”
    that you wrote about the galaxy IC 3418, as this very system has been investigated and published more than 2 years ago by my group in Italy, reaching the same conclusions about the evolutionary stage of this galaxy. The mentioned paper is Fumagalli et al 2011, A&A, 528, 46.

    Best regards
    Giuseppe Gavazzi
    Professor of astrophysics
    University of Milano- Bicocca

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