NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has captured images of a rare ancient relic galaxy – NGC 1277 – packed with millions of stars hidden in our cosmic backyard.
The galaxy is located 240 million light-years away near the center of the Perseus cluster of over 1,000 galaxies.
According to the astronomers involved with the imaging the galaxy has remained essentially unchanged for the past 10 billion years. This is the reason that they are calling it a galaxy that’s in a state of “arrested development.”
It is believed that the newly spotted ancient galaxy started its life with a bang long ago, churning out new stars around 1,000 times faster than our home galaxy. However, physically it is as small as one quarter the size of our galaxy. The galaxy went dormant eventually after it failed to gather enough material to grow in size.
Normally, massive galaxies tend to have both metal-poor (appearing blue) and metal-rich (appearing red) globular clusters. But, according to the scientists, NGC 1277 does not have the same kinds of globular clusters that other large galaxies have. Considering the fact that NGC 1277 lacked in blue globular clusters, it can be concluded that it never grew further by gobbling up surrounding galaxies.
Hubble has spotted such relic galaxies before, but they were all pretty far away. NGC 1277 is by far the closest relic galaxy that NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has ever captured before.
“We can explore such original galaxies in full detail and probe the conditions of the early universe,” said Ignacio Trujillo from the University of La Laguna in Spain.
Furthermore, it has also been found that NGC 1277 has a central black hole that is much more massive than it should be for a galaxy of that size.
NASA is hopeful that with the launch of the James Webb Telescope in 2019, they will be able to get more stunning images of the universe and track down other relic galaxies.