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Astronomers Spot 'a Very Curious Object'

They say it's about 11B light-years away
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted May 27, 2020 6:20 PM CDT
Updated May 30, 2020 1:45 PM CDT

(Newser) – Media outlets are calling it the "Eye of Sauron" or "Ring of Fire"—scientists, "R5519." Whatever the name, it's an odd-looking galaxy that might just alter how science views the early formation of galaxies in the universe, LiveScience reports. Scientists say they spotted the ring-shaped galaxy about 11 billion light-years away, appearing as it did some 3 billion years after the Big Bang. And it doesn't look the way they expected. "It is a very curious object that we’ve never seen before," says lead researcher Tiantian Yuan in a press release. "It looks strange and familiar at the same time." It's not only odd for being a ring galaxy, which is already rare. It also looks like the first known "collisional ring galaxy" in the early universe.

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That means it likely began as a flat, wide disk until something punched a vast hole through its center. Scientists suspect that something (like another galaxy) blew through it, triggering density waves that pushed gas and dust outwards to create stars, per Science Alert. "It is making stars at a rate 50 times greater than the Milky Way," says Yuan. "Most of that activity is taking place on its ring—so it truly is a ring of fire." Kenneth Freeman, who co-authored the paper, says we're looking back two billion years before the Milky Way began to form: It's "a time when thin disks were only just assembling," he explains. "This discovery is an indication that disc assembly in spiral galaxies occurred over a more extended period than previously thought." (Read more astronomy stories.)

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