Seen for the First Time: Starless Galaxies

Dark Galaxies

The illuminating quasar is circled in red. The dark galaxies are in blue.Royal Astronomical Society

Galaxy-building theory says there are stars and there are stage hands. The bright, shining galaxies filled with stars, the theory goes, took star-building gas from somewhere else, but we couldn't find exactly where the help came from. Now astronomers have likely found that source; starless "dark galaxies" that fed others early in the history of the universe have been seen.

The European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope was able to catch a glimpse of the galaxies for the first time as they were being illuminated by a quasar. Since the galaxies are bad at forming stars on their own, they're difficult to see without a light source like a quasar, which shines UV light and can cause a fluorescent glow in the starless galaxies. Their existence has been hinted at before, but this marks the first direct look.

Some estimations were also offered by researchers on the properties of these galaxies. The mass of their gas is about 1 billion times that of the Sun's, and they're about 100 times less conducive to star-forming than similar neighbors.

The find also validates progressive rock band King Crimson's early scientific predictions.