The oldest spiral galaxy ever observed - BRI 1335-0417. Credit: ALMA (ESO / NAOJ / NRAO), T. Tsukui & S. Iguchi

12.4-Billion-Year-Old Galaxy Imaged by Scientists

Approximately 70% of the total number of known galaxies are spiral-shaped. Scientists have now found the oldest one to date and even shared an image.

Scientists discovered the oldest spiral galaxy to date while analyzing old data from the ALMA radio telescope. While it is not the oldest galaxy ever observed, it surprised scientists as previously, it was believed that spiral-shaped ones began to form much later in time. Now, the newly-found galaxy will aid scientists who attempt to solve this long-lasting mystery.

The Standard Model suggests that galaxy formation in the early universe began with tiny, turbulent, and largely disorganized protogalaxies that probably took billions of years to grow into the stable spiral and elliptical structures seen in our local environment today.

How did a spiral galaxy with this incredible size form this early in time then – more than 12 billion years ago?

Image from the Hubble Space Telescope containing nearly 15,000 galaxies. If you close up, you can see that most are spiral galaxies. Credit: NASA, ESA, P. Oesch (University of Geneva), and M. Montes (University of New South Wales)
Image from the Hubble Space Telescope containing nearly 15,000 galaxies. If you close up, you can see that most are spiral galaxies. Credit: NASA, ESA, P. Oesch (University of Geneva), and M. Montes (University of New South Wales)

10 Things about the oldest spiral galaxy that make it a significant find

1. An open galaxy with a spiral morphology, designated BRI 1335-0417, was discovered in the ALMA observational archives. It was formed 12.4 billion years ago and contains a large amount of dust that hides the light of its stars from us. This makes it difficult to study BRI 1335-0417 in detail in visible light.

2. However, ALMA can detect radio emission from carbon ions in the galaxy, which allows astronomers to investigate the processes taking place in it.

3. The author of the work – a graduate student of the Japanese University of Advanced Research SOKENDAI, said that he had never seen such clear detail during observations of distant galaxies, and he initially thought that this was a much closer one to us.

4. Yes, to us, the image may appear blurry and low-quality. In reality, it shows the clearest evidence of a rotating disk to date and will help scientists a great deal in future studies.

5. Observations have shown that the revealed spiral structure of BRI 1335-0417 extends 15 thousand light-years from its center. Logically, this would make it about three times smaller than our own galaxy – the Milky Way.

6. Yet, BRI 1335-0417 is surprisingly dense. Scientists predict that the galaxy has an identical mass to our Milky Way, despite being three times smaller in size.

7. The question is, how could this distinct spiral structure have formed just 1.4 billion years after the Big Bang? The study authors considered several possible scenarios, the most likely of which they call interaction with a small galaxy. According to observations, BRI 1335-0417 is actively forming stars, and the gas in the outer part of the galaxy is gravitationally unstable.

8. Scientists also argue about the fate of BRI 1335-0417. It is believed that galaxies containing large amounts of dust and actively forming stars in the early universe are the ancestors of giant elliptical structures.

9. If this is the case with BRI 1335-0417, it should and will change in shape in the near or distant future. Astronomers in thousands of years will likely not see it as we see it today. On the other hand, other scientists suggest that this exact galaxy may remain spiral for longer as it is already the oldest known such example and it has kept its shape.

10. One thing is clear – BRI 1335-0417 will play an important role in the study of the evolution of forms of galaxies throughout the history of the Universe.


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Sources:

Baker, H. (2021, May 24). Oldest spiral galaxy in the universe captured in fuzzy photo. LiveScience.
Guenot , M. (2021, May 22). New photo shows oldest-ever spiral galaxy, and it formed around 1 billion years earlier than thought.
Tsukui, T., & Iguchi, S. (2021, May 20). Spiral morphology in an intensely star-forming disk galaxy more than 12 billion years ago. Science.
WION Web Team. (2021, May 22). Scientists click photo of oldest spiral galaxy in universe. WION.

Written by Vladislav Tchakarov

Hello, my name is Vladislav and I am glad to have you here on Curiosmos. My experience as a freelance writer began in 2018 but I have been part of the Curiosmos family since mid-2020. As a history student, I have a strong passion for history and science, and the opportunity to research and write in this field on a daily basis is a dream come true.

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