Galaxies are dying. We may not be aware of this because we don’t hear or see it very often on the news and the process itself takes thousands, even millions, of years, but the fact is, galaxies do die and there are a few of them out there in our universe that are at the end of their lives.
One of them is ESO 137-001, a barred spiral galaxy in the galaxy cluster Abell 3627 (or the Norma Cluster) about 200 million light years away. ESO 137-001 is in the process of dying as it makes its way to the center of the cluster. The cluster itself is in the Zone of Avoidance, an area in the night sky that is obscured by our own galaxy, The Milky Way, so it’s difficult to us to observe but the Hubble Space Telescope managed to zoom in and capture haunting images of the process for us to see.
The Hubble images show streaks of blue interstellar gas trailing away from the galaxy, making EOS 137-001 look like an intergalactic jellyfish. These blue streaks, which are thousands of light years long, are the result of the Norma Cluster literally ripping the galaxy apart in a process called ram pressure stripping. The cluster is stripping the galaxy of its essential gas needed to form new stars; soon, the process will render the galaxy completely incapable of new star formation. When its last existing stars die out, it’s lights out for this galaxy as well.
We know this sounds like something coming out of the script for Armageddon 2 but it is in fact a common event in our universe. Eventually, in a few million years or so, our own galaxy will probably die a natural death as well.
Check out the video of the Hubble telescope zooming in on this spiral galaxy after the jump.