When Galaxies Switch Off
Some galaxies hit a point in their lives when their star formation is snuffed out, and they become “quenched”. Quenched galaxies in the distant past appear to be much smaller than the quenched galaxies in the Universe today. This has always puzzled astronomers — how can these galaxies grow if they are no longer forming stars? A team of astronomers has now used a huge set of Hubble observations to give a surprisingly simple answer to this long-standing cosmic riddle.
As these galaxies are no longer forming new stars, they were thought to grow by colliding and merging with other smaller quenched galaxies some five to ten times less massive. However, these mergers would require many such small galaxies floating around for the quenched population to snack on — which we do not see.
Until recently it had not been possible to explore a sufficient number of quenched galaxies, but now a team of astronomers has used observations from the Hubble COSMOS survey to identify and count these switched-off galaxies throughout the last eight billion years of cosmic history.
Full Story: http://www.spacetelescope.org/news/heic1313/