Extremely distant galaxy that ‘surprisingly’ looks like our Milky Way spotted

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Extremely distant galaxy that 'surprisingly' looks like our Milky Way spotted - We The Word Magazine
Astronomers using ALMA, in which the ESO is a partner, have revealed an extremely distant galaxy that looks surprisingly like our Milky Way. The galaxy, SPT0418-47, is gravitationally lensed by a nearby galaxy, appearing in the sky as a near-perfect ring of light.

The European Southern Observatory (ESO) through the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) -a radio telescope – spotted a distant galaxy in the universe which scientists are hailing as a breakthrough in the field of galaxy formation.”

The concerned galaxy, codenamed SPT0418-47, is so far away in space, the light took 12 billion years to reach the lens of the telescope that captured the cosmic wonder.

Hence, when astronomers spotted the galaxy which is a Milky Way look-alike, the universe was just 1.4 billion years old, the ESO says in a release.

More than the striking resemblance with our Milky Way, this newfound, young, and perplexing galaxy is also ‘surprisingly’ chaotic, which is contradictory to the established theories which say galaxies in the early stage should be/ were chaotic, turbulent and unstable.

Image of Milky Way, where our Solar system is located, shot at a clear night, sans light pollution at Allegheny National Forest in the United States (Image courtesy of Mathew Schwartz via Unsplash)

“This result represents a breakthrough in the field of galaxy formation, showing that the structures that we observe in nearby spiral galaxies and in our Milky Way were already in place 12 billion years ago,” says Francesca Rizzo, a Ph.D. student from the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Germany, who lead the research, which was published in the journal Nature.

Researchers who studied the faint and blurry galaxy noted it has at least two features typical to our Milky Way – a big group of stars tightly packed at the galactic center, and a rotating disc and a bulge. It did not have the typical spiral arms though.

“The big surprise was to find that this galaxy is actually quite similar to nearby galaxies, contrary to all expectations from the models and previous, less detailed, observations,” co-author Filippo Fraternali said, she is from the Kapteyn Astronomical Institute, University of Groningen in the Netherlands.

This new finding is the first time ever, astronomers noted a bulge so early in the life of a galaxy, making it the closest look-alike of the Milky Way to date, ESO explains.

Studying far away galaxies are fundamental to the understanding of how galaxies formed and evolve, a matter humans have since time immemorial tried to decipher.

The ESO says, what we see in the images is the galaxy at just 10% of its present-day age since light took 12 billion years to reach Earth. “By studying it, we are going back to a time when these baby galaxies were just beginning to develop.”

How astronomers managed to capture the galaxy so far away?  

It is not unknown to science there are millions and probably uncountable such galaxies in the universe, which are shrouded by the blanket of time and space.

Similarly, the recent discovery is located too far away to be captured in crystal-clear resolution. Detailed observation with even the most powerful telescopes is impossible and they appear small and faint.

However, astronomers used a clever technique where they put another galaxy in use by what they call a gravitational lensing. Here they use another galaxy as a mega magnifying glass which allowed the ALMA “to see into the distant past in unprecedented detail.”

After managing to finally spot the shy galaxy hiding beneath an enormous amount of space, astronomers discovered it looks like a perfect ring of fire around the nearby galaxy.

Scientists later reconstrued the faint ring of fire’s true shape and the motion of its gas from the data captured by the ALMA, using computer modeling technique. In Francesca Rizzo’s words, it was like “a treasure chest was opening.”

“What we found was quite puzzling; despite forming stars at a high rate, and therefore being the site of highly energetic processes, SPT0418-47 is the most well-ordered galaxy disc ever observed in the early Universe,” co-author Simona Vegetti, also from the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics said.

Extremely distant galaxy that 'surprisingly' looks like our Milky Way spotted - We The Word Magazine
Astronomers using ALMA, in which the ESO is a partner, have revealed an extremely distant galaxy that looks surprisingly like our Milky Way. The galaxy, SPT0418-47, is gravitationally lensed by a nearby galaxy, appearing in the sky as a near-perfect ring of light. The research team reconstructed the distant galaxy’s true shape, shown here, and the motion of its gas from the ALMA data using a new computer modelling technique. 

Scientists are perplexed from the features of the relatively young galaxy which showed theory-defying features of matured galaxies like our Milky Way.

The fact – that the galaxy is so well-ordered and calm when on paper it should have been chaotic and turbulent because of its young age, is intriguing scientists.

Scientists expect the SPT0418-47 to evolve into a very distinct galaxy from the Milky Way, into what they call an elliptical galaxy, which is another type of galaxy that inhabit the universe today alongside our type that is spiral galaxies.

What is proves as of now?

It is too early to conclude any proves or statements whatsoever. However, the state of the newfound galaxy and its age has certainly left space scientists scratching their heads.

The early universe, soon after the Big Bang, may not be as chaotic and turbulent as has been thought for decades, ESO explains in a media release. The finding also questions how such a stable galaxy could have formed so shortly after the Big Bang.

New findings keep reminding how limited and veiled humans are at the cusp of nature.