September 10, 2012

Hubble has spotted an ancient galaxy that shouldn’t exist

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.

"The vast majority of old galaxies look like train wrecks," said UCLA astrophysicist Alice Shapley in a press release. "Our first thought was, why is this one so different, and so beautiful?"

Shapley is co-author of the paper describing the discovery, which is published in the latest issue of Nature. She and her colleagues had been using Hubble to investigate some of our Universe's most distant cosmic entities, but the discovery of BX442 — which is what they've dubbed the newfound galaxy — came as a huge surprise.

"The fact that this galaxy exists is astounding," said University of Toronto's David Law, lead author of the study. "Current wisdom holds that such ‘grand-design' spiral galaxies simply didn't exist at such an early time in the history of the universe."

The hallmark of a grand design galaxy is its well-formed spiral arms, but getting into this conformation takes time. When astronomers look at most galaxies as they appeared billions and billions of years ago, they look clumpy and irregular. A 10.7-billion-year-old entity, BX442 came into existence a mere 3-billion years after the Big Bang. That's not a lot of time on a cosmic time scale, and yet BX442 looks surprisingly put together. So much so, in fact, that astronomers didn't believe it at first, chalking their unusual observation up to the accidental alignment of two separate galaxies. But further investigations, conducted at the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, revealed BX442 to be the real thing.

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.

The reason Stephen Hawking bet against the Higgs Boson is the same reason BX442 is the best kind of discovery; not only does this galaxy set a new benchmark by way of its cosmic seniority, it's also super weird — weirder than what anyone thought was possible. In science, these are the finds that help us rework our understanding of nature, the discoveries that force us to step back from what we thought we knew, re-assess our preconceived notions, and bring forth a newer, more fully formed view of our Universe.

The researchers' findings are published in the latest issue of Nature.


  1. Ok, great so where are the pictures?

  2. The Big Bang never happened. It's that simple. Cosmologists have spent 80 years brushing aside contradictory evidence by giving it labels such as "The Inflation Field" and "Dark Energy" - two purely hypothetical, unproven and yet absolutely necessary forces for the universe to have come from a "Big Bang".

    Now, we have a galaxy that is far too old to have been created by known forces so scientists talk about how it "may" have been caused by a collision with another galaxy... that started only 3 billion years after everything in the universe exploded away from everything else?

    Not one single mention of the universe maybe being older than what we think?

    Cosmology is like religion - it has a dogma that must not be questioned and that claims the universe was created in a magical event 14 billion years ago.

    Nothing will be allowed to disprove that dogma, no matter what contortions the cosmologists are forced to take in order to make it all sort of fit.

    What a joke science has become.

    1. So, do you believe God created everything around 6000 years ago just like He said He did?

    2. Hey Anonymous 8:37,
      When a true scientist finds that the facts do not fit his (Big Bang) hypothesis, he questions the hypothesis. Not accepting the "Big Bang" as a "Fact", does not mean that one is a creationist. There are various alternative possibilities, e.g. the Plasma Cosmology.
      "Not one single mention of the universe maybe being older than what we think?". does that sound like a creationist?
      Please try reading the comment, before responding like a Pavlovian D**head.

    3. Very true. I will never understand how scientists can completely degrade creationists and yet make the same mistake.

      If there are so many problems with a theory as there are with the Big Bang, one must conclude that it is not correct. There is no shame in us admitting that we don't yet know. The shame is insisting on a fallacy because it gives us a sense of order.

  3. No pictures or even where to look in the night sky! amazing.

  4. Pic or it didn't happen.

  5. Karmakaze, Your an Idiot, Most likely a zealot creationist.. There is no Dogma in Science.. Google the "Scientific way of thinking"...

    1. Which is why the "Big Bang " cosmology regardless of conflicting evidence is "dogma" not science.

    2. Interesting.... I don't think he's religious as he mocked religion in his original comment.

      Perhaps you should actually read and comprehend what the man (woman?) wrote prior to making assumptions about what he is and is not?

      (Additionally, this may be news to some, but Google- although a wonderful company- is not the authority on all things scientific.)

  6. Plasma Cosmology says the universe is on the scale of 80-100 billion years this would not be a problem for that theory.

  7. Pics are here.

  8. I took this Sept. 6: