The spectacular aftermath of a 360 million year old cosmic collision is revealed in great detail in new images from ESO’s Very Large Telescope at the Paranal Observatory. Among the debris is a rare and mysterious young dwarf galaxy. This galaxy is providing astronomers with an excellent opportunity to learn more about similar galaxies that are expected to be common in the early Universe, but are normally too faint and distant to be observed by current telescopes.
NGC 5291, the hazy, golden oval dominating the centre of this image, is an elliptical galaxy located nearly 200 million light-years away in the constellation of Centaurus (The Centaur). Over 360 million years ago, NGC 5291 was involved in a dramatic and violent collision as another galaxy travelling at immense speeds barrelled into its core. The cosmic crash ejected huge streams of gas into nearby space, which later coalesced into a ring formation around NGC 5291.
Over time, material in this ring gathered and collapsed into dozens of star-forming regions and several dwarf galaxies, revealed as pale blue and white regions scattered around NGC 5291 in this new image from the FORS instrument, mounted on the VLT. The most massive and luminous clump of material, to the right of NGC 5291, is one of these dwarf galaxies and is known as NGC 5291N.
The Milky Way, like all large galaxies, is believed to have formed through the build-up of smaller dwarf galaxies in the early years of the Universe. These small galaxies, if they have survived on their own up to the present day, now normally contain many extremely old stars.
Yet NGC 5291N appears to contain no old stars. Detailed observations with the MUSE spectrograph also found that the outer parts of the galaxy had properties typically associated with the formation of new stars, but what was observed is not predicted by current theoretical models. Astronomers suspect that these unusual aspects may be the result of massive collisions of gas in the region.
NGC 5291N doesn’t look like a typical dwarf galaxy, but instead it shares a striking number of similarities with the clumpy structures present within many of the star-forming galaxies in the distant Universe. This makes it a unique system in our local Universe and an important laboratory for the study of early gas-rich galaxies, which are normally much too distant to be observed in detail by current telescopes.
This unusual system has previously been observed by a wide range of ground-based facilities, including ESO’s 3.6-metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory. However, the capabilities of MUSE, FORS and the Very Large Telescope have only now allowed some of the history and properties of NGC 5291N to be determined.
Future observations, including those by ESO’s European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), may allow astronomers to further unravel this dwarf galaxy’s remaining mysteries.
Source: ESO press release
Using data collected from their network of telescopes, the Event Horizons Telescope team hopes to produce the first ever image of a black hole in 2018.
Finding past or present microbial life on Mars would without doubt be one of the greatest scientific discoveries of all time. And in just two years’ time, there’s a big opportunity to do so, with two rovers launching there to look for signs of life – Mars2020 by NASA and ExoMars by the European Space Agency and Roscosmos.
It has been theorized that a world could be habitable even if doesn't orbit a star. After the expulsion of moons from solar systems, moons and planets could be close enough to create tidal heating, potentially making a rogue moon habitable.
Researchers mimicked the conditions of space to test if the building blocks of life could be formed. The results showed that organic molecules could originate from space radiation interacting with icy surfaces.
The planet Proxima b, which is in our closest neighboring star system, has given the space exploration project "Breakthrough Starshot" a reachable target. We don't know if Starshot will reveal a habitable planet for humans, but it will definitely require us to master our own solar system.
The search for extra-solar planets has turned up some very interesting discoveries. Aside planets that are more-massive versions of their Solar counterparts (aka. Super-Jupiters and Super-Earths), there have been plenty of planets that straddle the line between classifications. And then there were times when follow-up observations have led to the discovery of multiple planetary systems.
We have accomplished a lot in our (relatively) short time on Earth. We’ve sent humans to the Moon and to live in space, developed massive and sophisticated telescopes to see the farthest reaches of the cosmos, and even rocketed rovers to Mars and probes to the edge of our solar system. However, a number of organizations have taken humanity’s voyage into the final frontier a step farther. NASA, the European Space Agency, and the research collective behind the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) have been working tirelessly to find out if we are alone, once and for all.
Through a remarkable experiment, an international team of scientists has found that it is possible to reverse the arrow of time without violating the second law of thermodynamics. Their research confirms that we still have much to learn about the world around us.
Amidst seemingly endless advances in quantum physics and the hunt for dark matter by American and European scientists, China continues to close the gap in scientific prowess.
In the past decade, the rate at which extra-solar planets have been discovered and characterized has increased prodigiously. Because of this, the question of when we might explore these distant planets directly has repeatedly come up. In addition, the age-old question of what we might find once we get there – i.e. is humanity alone in the Universe or not? – has also come up with renewed vigor.