It seems that, so far, it is: In July of 2012, astronomers observed a spiral galaxy in the early universe, billions of years before many other spiral galaxies formed while using the Hubble Space Telescope. They were taking pictures of about 300 very distant galaxies in the early universe to study their properties. This distant spiral galaxy they discovered existed roughly three billion years after the Big Bang, and light from this part of the universe has been traveling to Earth for about 10.7 billion years.
This galaxy is so large, so fully-formed, astronomers say it shouldn’t exist at all. It’s called a “grand-design” spiral galaxy, and unlike most galaxies of its kind, this one is old. Like, really, really old. According to a new study conducted by researchers using NASA’s Hubble Telescope, it dates back roughly 10.7-billion years — and that makes it the most ancient spiral galaxy we’ve ever discovered.
So how does a galaxy that shouldn’t exist come to be? The researchers think the answer may have something to do with a companion dwarf galaxy looming near BX442 (in the image up top, it’s the separate circular cluster in the upper right). Simulations conducted by University of Arizona researcher Charlotte Christenson indicate that gravitation interactions between the two, which she says appear to be in the process of colliding, may have helped BX442 take shape.
This galaxy is so large, so fully-formed, astronomers say it shouldn’t exist at all. It’s called a “grand-design” spiral galaxy, and unlike most galaxies of its kind, this one is old. Like, really,really old. According to a new study conducted by researchers using NASA’s Hubble Telescope, it dates back roughly 10.7-billion years — and that makes it the most ancient spiral galaxy we’ve ever discovered.
An artist’s rendering of galaxy BX442, which is 10.7 billion light-years from Earth, and its companion dwarf galaxy (upper left). Image credit: Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics/Joe Bergeron
Astronomers have discovered the universe’s most ancient spiral galaxy yet, a cosmic structure that dates back roughly 10.7 billion years, a new study reveals.
The galactic find, discovered by researchers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, comes as something of a surprise. Other galaxies from such early epochs are clumpy and irregular, not strikingly symmetrical like the newfound spiral, which broadly resembles our own Milky Way.
“The fact that this galaxy exists is astounding,” study lead author David Law, of the University of Toronto, said in a statement. “Current wisdom holds that such ‘grand-design’ spiral galaxies simply didn’t exist at such an early time in the history of the universe.”
I’m particularly fond of the stories that contain remarks like “shouldn’t exist” or “defies expectations” or “confuses the shit out of people.” It makes me warm knowing that as much progress we make, we are generally still blind mice milling about in a world of confusion. The Universe is still full of wonder.
[ Authors ]
A. Rustamov, J. N. Rustamov
[ Abstract ]
It is well established that many galaxies, like our Milky Way, exhibit spiral patterns. The entire galactic disc rotates about the galactic centre with different speed; higher closer to the centre, lower at greater distances - that is, galactic discs do not rotate like a solid compact disc. The spiral arms are the part of the galactic disc where many young stars are being born. Since young stars are also brightest, we can see the spiral structure of other galaxies from afar. Typically spiral galaxies are copiously observed at redshifts z ~ 1. The recently observed grand-design galaxy Q2343-BX442 at z=2.18, however, implies uncertain origin of its spiral structure. Indeed such “old” galaxies usually look rather clumpy because of their dynamically hot discs. In this report, based on self-similarity, we argue that spiral structures may also appear in heavy-ion collisions as messengers of phase transitions. Thus spiral structures in galactic patters may be traced back to a few microseconds after the Big Bang.