Even after 28 years of orbiting Earth, the good ol' Hubble Space Telescope still takes some of the most amazing photos of the universe humans have ever seen thus far. Just recently it was able to capture a photograph of two galaxies merging, and it's a sight to behold.
There's another it recently took too, and it looks glorious. More importantly, it's surprisingly close to Milky Way — our home galaxy.
Relic Galaxy NGC 1277
A new study published March 12 in Nature says that Hubble scientists have located a "relic galaxy" named NGC 1277 that's around 240 million light-years away near the Perseus cluster. It is smaller than the Milky Way, but scientists believe that during its heyday, NGC 1277 could birth stars 1,000 times faster than our home galaxy.
Hubble scientists claim that at some point, NGC 1277 halted its star production, and the reddish ones in the photo are actually aging stars from its golden years. For the last 10 billion years or so, the galaxy has remained stagnant, which is why the Hubble calls it a galaxy that's in a state of "arrested development."
"The galaxy, NGC 1277, started its life with a bang long ago, ferociously churning out stars 1,000 times faster than seen in our own Milky Way today. But it abruptly went quiescent as the baby boomer stars aged and grew ever redder."
Thus far, NGC 1277 is the closest relic galaxy the Hubble Space Telescope has even been able to capture. It's taken photos of other relic galaxies before, but they were all pretty far away. The distant ones mostly show up as red dots to Hubble, but this one was close enough to study in more detail. Besides globular reddish clusters around the galaxy, another indication that it's a relic is the lack of blue clusters, which is one of the signs of growth and absorption of new galaxies.
NASA says NGC 1277 moves too fast to be able to eat other galaxies or absorb stars. For the sake of comparison, the Milky Way has about 180 red and blue clusters and eats up star systems of a smaller galaxy that comes too close.
Hopefully, more images like this one arrives soon, especially with the launch of the James Webb Telescope in 2019, which will surely capture stunning images of the universe and eventually track down other relic galaxies or other bizarre space phenomena.