Ancient spiral galaxy baffles astronomers (+video)
Using data from the Hubble telescope, scientists have found the oldest spiral galaxy in the universe, a galaxy that, according to current models, isn't supposed to exist.
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This information confirmed that BX442 is indeed a rotating spiral, and not two disk-shaped galaxies that happened to line up in the image.Skip to next paragraph
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"We first thought this could just be an illusion, and that perhaps we were being led astray by the picture," Shapley said. "What we found when we took this spectral image of this galaxy is that the spiral arms do belong to this galaxy; it wasn’t an illusion. It’s rotating and has spiral arms. Not only does it look like a rotating disk galaxy — it really is. We were blown away."
The Hubble and Keck observations also revealed a companion dwarf galaxy residing near BX442. The scientists think the gravitational interaction between the two galaxies may be creating BX442's spiral shape, possibly explaining how it became so different than its galactic contemporaries. (The Milky Way has its own satellite dwarf galaxy, known as Sagittarius, that may help produce its spiral arms.)
The companion is likely to merge with BX442 eventually, researchers said. Simulations also show that BX442's spiral will probably dissipate within 100 million years or so, they added.
The astronomers plan to continue studying BX442 for further insights that could shed light on how spiral galaxies like our own Milky Way come to be.
"BX442 represents a link between early galaxies that are much more turbulent and the rotating spiral galaxies that we see around us," Shapley said. "Indeed, this galaxy may highlight the importance of merger interactions at any cosmic epoch in creating grand design spiral structure."
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