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Bizarre obstructed galaxy found in our own cosmic backyard

This Hubble Space Telescope, shows the galaxy NGC 1277, which is unique in that it is considered to be a relic of what galaxies were like in the early universe. NGC 1277 is composed only of aging stars that were born 10 billion years ago.

(M. Beasley(Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias)/NASA/ESA)

Astronomers are on the hunt for the cause of a nearby galaxy, “arrested development” with the help of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.

The strange galaxy, called NGC 1277, seems not much has changed in the past 10 billion years, a new study reports. Learn about the history must shed light on galaxy formation and evolution in general, study team members said.

NGC 1277, which is located about 240 million light-years away from Earth, it is a so-called “red and dead” galaxy, because they do not have enough fuel for the production of new stars. That was not always the case, however. Shortly after the galaxy was formed, produced stars 1,000 times faster than they are formed today in our milky way Galaxy, the researchers said. [Gallery: 65 All-Time Great Galaxy Hits]

Astronomers think that the key to NGC 1277 development is located in the globular clusters, which are groups of stars. Large galaxies usually have two types of clusters: metal arms, which are blue and metal-rich, which appear red. (In the astronomical meaning, a metal is an element in the periodic table heavier than helium.) In the beginning of a typical galaxy’s history, it should be a lot of red clusters; the researchers think that the blue clusters form later, after the smaller satellites to be absorbed in the centre of the milky way.

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The Milky way has about equal numbers of red and blue globular clusters, in part because our galaxy is eating galactic neighbours that come too close. But in NGC 1277, there are almost no blue globular clusters, the new study reports. This suggests that the galaxy stopped growing, because it is not eat of nearby galaxies — a process that spurs star formation as a result of the new reservoirs of gas and dust which are available after such events.

“I have been studying globular clusters of galaxies for a long time, and this is the first time I’ve ever seen,” study lead author Michael Beasley, an astronomer at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) at the University of La Laguna in Spain, said in a statement.

NGC 1277 is perhaps too soon to eat, the researchers added. The speed of the Perseus cluster of galaxies at about 2 million mph (3.2 million km/h), which does not allow to pick up gas for new star formation. The Perseus cluster also has a punishment area near the centre; the intergalactic gas is too hot to merge for star formation, study team members said.

NGC 1277 form is also a source of mystery. NGC 1277 has twice as many stars as the Milky way, but it is only a quarter of the size of the milky way. The researchers, the shape of NGC 1277 suggests that perhaps all galaxies, including the Milky way, started as a small, stunted collections of stars. It was only after accreting more and more material that galaxies grew into spirals and other shapes that we see in the sky today.

NGC 1277 is not the only “red and dead” galaxy; Hubble spotted several of these in the early universe. (In fact, astronomers suggest that 1 in 1000 massive galaxies in the universe should look like NGC 1277.) The other galaxies, however, are too far away to see clearly. But NGC 1277 is the relative proximity allows astronomers to more detail, giving more insight into the composition and history.

“We can explore original galaxies in detail and probe the conditions of the early universe,” study co-author Ignacio Trujillo, who is also an astronomer at the IAC, said in the same statement.

Astronomers cottoned on NGC 1277 is unique in history because of its central black hole, which is much heavier than expected for a galaxy of that size. Some astronomers suggest that young galaxies and black holes grow together; in the case of NGC 1277, the black hole can already have huge (compared with those of other galaxies) because the galaxy’s growth suffered from the lack of new stars.

The research team has made of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey to identify other 10 candidate “arrested development” galaxies. As for NGC 1277, members of the team, hope NASA’s future James Webb Space Telescope (launch in 2019) to see how globular clusters move in NGC 1277. The clusters’ movements will give you more information about dark matter — the mysterious stuff that doesn’t emit or absorb light, but that makes the greatest part of the mass of the universe.

The results were published in the March 12 edition of the journal Nature.

Originally published on Space.com.

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