NASA probe set to uncover mysteries of rare ‘relic galaxy’

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope is set on an Indiana Jones-type quest to uncover a rare ancient “relic galaxy” hidden in our cosmic backyard that has remained unchanged for the past 10 billion years.

The wayward stellar island may provide valuable insights into the origin and evolution of galaxies billions of years ago.

The galaxy, NGC 1277, started its life with a bang long ago, ferociously churning out stars 1,000 times faster than seen in the Milky Way today.

However, it abruptly went quiescent as the baby boomer stars aged and grew ever redder.

Though Hubble has seen such “red and dead” galaxies in the early universe, one has never been conclusively found nearby.

Where the early galaxies are so distant, they are just red dots in Hubble deep-sky images. NGC 1277 offers a unique opportunity to see one up close and personal.

“We can explore such original galaxies in full detail and probe the conditions of the early universe,” said Ignacio Trujillo, at the University of La Laguna in Spain.

The researchers learned that the relic galaxy has twice as many stars as our Milky Way, but physically it is as small as one quarter the size of our galaxy.

Essentially, NGC 1277 is in a state of “arrested development.”

Perhaps like all galaxies it started out as a compact object but failed to accrete more material to grow in size to form a magnificent pinwheel-shaped galaxy.

About one in 1,000 massive galaxies is expected to be a relic galaxy, like NGC 1277, researchers said.


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