Astronomers Discover an Extremely Unusual Galaxy

Sitting in the arms of Cassiopeia (The Seated Queen) 

This image, taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Planetary Camera 2, shows a spiral galaxy named NGC 278. This cosmic beauty lies some 38 million light-years away in the northern constellation of Cassiopeia (The Seated Queen). While NGC 278 may look serene, it is anything but. The galaxy is currently undergoing an immense burst of star formation. This flurry of activity is shown by the unmistakable blue-hued knots speckling the galaxy’s spiral arms, each of which marks a clump of hot newborn stars. However, NGC 278’s star formation is somewhat unusual; it does not extend to the galaxy’s outer edges, but is only taking place within an inner ring some 6500 light-years across. This two-tiered structure is visible in this image — while the galaxy’s centre is bright, its extremities are much darker. This odd configuration is thought to have been caused by a merger with a smaller, gas-rich galaxy — while the turbulent event ignited the centre of NGC 278, the dusty remains of the small snack then dispersed into the galaxy’s outer regions. Whatever the cause, such a ring of star formation, called a nuclear ring, is extremely unusual in galaxies without a bar at their centre, making NGC 278 a very intriguing sight.
This image, taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Planetary Camera 2, shows a spiral galaxy named NGC 278. This cosmic beauty lies some 38 million light-years away in the northern constellation of Cassiopeia (The Seated Queen). Credits: NASA/Hubble/ESA

Space news (galaxy evolution: unusual galaxies; spiral galaxy NGC 278) – 38 million light-years away, sitting in the arms of northern constellation Cassiopeia (The Seated Queen) – 

The image above shows spiral galaxy NGC 278, a very unusual island universe astronomers are currently studying looking for clues to its unique nature. This unusual galaxy looks quiet and serene from here, but there’s unusual starburst activity taking place astronomers are currently trying to explain.  

Each of the unmistakable blue knots seen strewn across NGC 278’s spiral arms is a clump of hot, newly born stars. These blue knots of young stars doesn’t extend to the outer edges of the galaxy but only reside within an inner ring some 6,500 light-years across. The two-tiered structure astronomers have identified within NGC 278 shows a bright galactic center, with much darker outer regions. 

Astrophysicists studying this unusual spiral galaxy think this weird two-tiered structure and current starburst activity is due to a recent merger with a smaller, gas-rich galaxy. A merger that has ignited starburst within the center of this island universe, while the leftovers of the galactic snack dispersed into its outer regions. This activity created the ring of blue knots of newly formed stars seen here, which astronomers have dubbed a nuclear ring. A very unusual structure not often observed in galaxies with a bar across their center region. Making NGC 278 an unusual, intriguing galactic specimen they plan on studying closer for clues to its unusual nature. 

Learn more about why simple elliptical galaxy UGC 1382 astonishes astronomers?

Read about the transition phase older spiral galaxy NGC 5010 is going through.

Read about how galaxy CGCG254-021 got its tail?

Learn about the things NASA has discovered during the human journey to the beginning of space and time here.  

Read and learn more about galaxies

Discover everything they know about spiral galaxy NGC 278 here

Learn more about the northern constellation Cassiopeia (The Seated Queen)

Read, learn and discover more about starburst galaxies here

Advertisements