What’s Snuffing Out Galaxies Before Their Time?

The VERTICO—Virgo Environment Traced in Carbon Monoxide—Survey observed the gas reservoirs in 51 galaxies in the nearby Virgo Cluster and found that the extreme environment in the cluster was killing galaxies by robbing them of their star-forming fuel. In this composite image, ALMA’s radio wavelength observations of the VERTICO galaxies’ molecular gas disks are magnified by a factor of 20. They are overlaid on the X-ray image of the hot plasma within the Virgo Cluster. Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/S. Dagnello (NRAO)/Böhringer et al. (ROSAT All-Sky Survey)

In the Milky Way, the formation rate of stars is about one solar mass every year. About 10 billion years ago, it was ten solar masses every year. What happened?

Stars are born in giant molecular clouds (GMCs), and astronomers think that the environment in galaxies affects these clouds and their ability to spawn new stars. Sometimes the environment is so extreme that entire galaxies stop forming new stars.

Astronomers call this “quenching,” and they want to know what causes it.

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Astronomers Can Predict When a Galaxy’s Star Formation Ends Based on the Shape and Size of its Disk

An ensemble of twenty-five disk galaxies. The view on the left shows light emitted in the H-alpha line from interstellar gas as a result of ongoing star-formation, while the panels on the right shows the optical light emitted by a mix of young (bluer) and old (redder) stars. Each galaxy can be seen rotated edge-on below its face-on view. Image Credit: TNG Collaboration

A galaxy’s main business is star formation. And when they’re young, like youth everywhere, they keep themselves busy with it. But galaxies age, evolve, and experience a slow-down in their rate of star formation. Eventually, galaxies cease forming new stars altogether, and astronomers call that quenching. They’ve been studying quenching for decades, yet much about it remains a mystery.

A new study based on the IllustrisTNG simulations has found a link between a galaxy’s quenching and its stellar size.

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