In many ways stars are like living beings. They’re born; they live; they die. And they even have a heartbeat. Near the end of their lifetime they begin to pulsate, increasing and decreasing their brightness by a large amount every few hundred days. Using a novel technique, astronomers have detected thousands of stellar “pulses” in the galaxy Messier 87 (M87). Their measurements offer a new way of determining a galaxy’s age.
M87 is a giant elliptical galaxy with a total mass more than a million million times that of the Sun that lies at the centre of the Virgo Cluster about 50 million light-years away. New observations with the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope have revealed the full extent of the galaxy’s cannibalistic nature.