Using the Very Large Telescope, scientists were astonished to see this very rare event.
Astronomers have spotted something akin to finding a needle in a haystack: actual proof that large galaxies cannibalize other galaxies in order to grow larger, and they did it using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope.
The galaxy is called Messier 87, and it’s a big one. Using the Very Large Telescope, scientists have been able to confirm that it recently — well, a billion years ago — gobbled up a medium-sized galaxy that caused its own dispersal area to grow by an astounding 100 times its original size, according to a UPI report.
Scientists have always just assumed the galaxies consume other galaxies all the time, but finding proof of it was another matter. But by observing the after effects of accretion within galaxies, scientists finally focused their attention on Messier 87 and found the evidence they were looking for.
The telescope allowed scientists to zoom in on this giant elliptical galaxy and spot the movement of planetary nebulae surrounding aging stars. This showed evidence of a recent impact that happened within the last billion years.
Signs that a galaxy as eating up another include the presence of younger and brighter stars that may have been swallowed up in the cosmic mayhem.
It was an exciting find for scientists, especially considering the incredibly wide dispersal of this “newly” formed galaxy. They were even able to spot signs that the new stars were sticking to largely the same structure they had in the old galaxy.
The study was published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.