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Elliptical galaxies were once thought to be aging star cities whose star-making heyday was billions of years ago. But new observations with NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope are helping to show that elliptical galaxies still have some youthful vigor left, thanks to encounters with smaller galaxies.
Images of the core of NGC 4150, taken in near-ultraviolet light with the sharp-eyed Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3), reveal streamers of dust and gas and clumps of young, blue stars that are significantly less than a billion years old. Evidence shows that the star birth was sparked by a merger with a dwarf galaxy.
The new study helps bolster the emerging view that most elliptical galaxies have young stars, bringing new life to old galaxies.
“Elliptical galaxies were thought to have made all of their stars billions of years ago,” said astronomer Mark Crockett of the University of Oxford, leader of the Hubble observations. “They had consumed all their gas to make new stars. Now we are finding evidence of star birth in many elliptical galaxies, fueled mostly by cannibalizing smaller galaxies.
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