Hubble Tracks Down a 'Relic Galaxy' Near the Milky Way

Monday, 12 March 2018 - 8:03PM
Space
Astronomy
Monday, 12 March 2018 - 8:03PM
Hubble Tracks Down a 'Relic Galaxy' Near the Milky Way
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NASA, ESA, and M. Beasley (Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias)
Out of the many tasks which involve the Hubble Space Telescope, one in particular involved an "Indiana Jones-type quest" (NASA's words, not ours) to track down a relic galaxy - a galaxy which hasn't changed much since the earliest days of the universe.

It took some time, but Hubble finally has something. The telescope recently tracked down a relic galaxy called NGC 1277, which has several peculiar qualities, the biggest of which is how it hasn't changed much over the last 10 billion years or so. 

Continuing NASA's Indiana Jones metaphor, that's older than any relic you'd ever find on Earth, and there aren't really any museums that could hold it.



NGC 1277 is about 240 million lightyears away from our Milky Way galaxy, which is closer than expected. It's only about a quarter of the size of the Milky Way, but billions and billions of years ago, it was capable of producing stars 1,000 times faster than our own galaxy right now.

Eventually, as NGC 1277 grew older, the star production ceased and the galaxy became fairly static over the next 10 billion years. The stars have grown redder with age, but the galaxy is otherwise unchanged, giving astronomers a close look at what galaxies were like at that point in the universe's history.



The red stars weren't the only giveaway that it was a relic, although the lack of metal rich blue stars was a good indication. NGC 1277 also has a sizable black hole at its center, which is much larger than any galaxy that small should ever have. This suggests that the black hole's been growing in size over the eons, and/or likely swallowed up all the necessary materials to create new stars a long time ago.

Michael Beasley from the Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias, who was a co-author of a recent study in Nature about this galaxy, was among the most surprised at the discovery. He said the following in a press release:

Opening quote
"I didn't believe the ancient galaxy hypothesis initially, but finally I was surprised because it's not that common to find what you predict in astronomy. Typically, the universe always comes up with more surprises that you can think about."
Closing quote


As bizarre as this relic galaxy is, it's not far from our own stellar neighborhood, like many other weird sights that Hubble and future space telescopes like the James Webb telescope will eventually track down.
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