"Relic galaxy" discovered just 240 million light-years from Earth

A newly discovered relic galaxy is the closer to Earth than any other on record.
By Joseph Scalise | Mar 14, 2018
A team of international astronomers have discovered an ancient galaxy 240 million light-years from Earth that has stayed the same for the past 10 billion years, according to a new studypublished in the journal Nature.

The distant system is known as NGC 1277. It is made up of aging stars, which make it look the same as it did during the early days of the universe. Though the galaxy once produced stars 1,000 times faster than the Milky Way does, at a certain point the process suddenly stopped.

NGC 1277 is known as a "relic galaxy." While such systems have been recorded before, none of them have been found this close to Earth.

"We can explore such original galaxies in full detail and probe the conditions of the early universe," explained study co-author Ignacio Trujillo, a researcher from the Instituto de Astrofsica (IAC) de Canarias, in astatement.

The distant galaxy has twice as many stars as the Milky Way, but it is just a quarter of the size. The dense cloud suggests that NGC 1277 is trapped in a state of "arrested development" and has not formed new material in quite some time. As a result, it does not grow.

Astronomers confirmed that NGC 1277 is a relic galaxy by studying its globular clusters -- large, compact collections of older stars orbiting around a galactic core.

While most galaxies have a mix of globular clusters -- some blue, some red -- NGC 177 almost has no blue clusters inside it. That is extremely rare, and suggests the galaxy did not grow by merging with surrounding galaxies. Rather, it likely moves so fast through the universe that it is not able to merge with smaller satellite galaxies.

However, asNCG 1277 does have red globular clusters, it likely stopped generating stars a long time ago.

"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," said lead author Michael Beasley, a researcher at Instituto de Astrofsica, according to Newsweek. "Typically, the universe always comes up with more surprises than you can think about."

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