Rare space gem discovered: the 'emerald-cut' galaxy

An international team of astronomers has just made a rare find. They've spotted a rectangular-shaped galaxy that resembles an emerald-cut diamond. Named LEDA 074886, the dwarf galaxy is located 70 million light years away within a group of approximately 250 other galaxies.

Most galaxies are either spheroid, disc-shaped or scattered and irregular, so this unique rectangular shaped find delighted the team that found it.

"It's one of those things that just makes you smile because it shouldn't exist, or rather you don't expect it to exist," said Associate Professor Alister Graham of Swinburne University of Technology in Australia in a release by the institution.

Not only did they not expect it to exist, they weren't even looking for it. The international team from Australia, Switzerland, Finland and Germany spotted it in a wide field-of-view image taken with the Japanese Subaru Telescope for an unrelated program by Swinburne astrophysicist Dr. Lee Spiler.

This is the false-color image it took, which highlights the disc anomaly in question:

emerald-cut-galaxy-disc.jpg

The team is now theorizing as to what causes the unusual shape. At first the team thought that it could be some strange form of gravitational pull that caused the shape. Upon further examination they now believe the square shaped galaxy is actually the result of two disc galaxies having crashed together.

What we are seeing may not be a cube or rectangle per se, but likely an inflated disc viewed on the side that should be thought of as a short cylinder.

Observations from the Keck Telescope in Hawaii have given the team more evidence to support the colliding galaxies theory. Their views have shown a thin stellar disc on its side with the outside edges clocked at rotating over 62,137 miles per hour.

Professor Duncan Forbes of Swinburne who co-authored the research describes the galaxy: "While the pre-existing stars from the initial galaxies were strewn to large orbits creating the emerald cut shape, the gas sank to the mid plane where it condensed to form new stars and the disc that we have observed."

The orientation of the galaxy and the way it is believed to have come together is helping astronomers look at modeling scenarios of other galaxies. The new information, along with the anomalies it contains, could even predict what might happen to our own galaxy in the far future if it collides with the Andromeda galaxy.

The team's findings (PDF) will be published in The Astrophysical Journal.

Swinburne University, via UniverseToday

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