Several scientific theories suggest that the Universe we live in began as a big bang around 13.8 billion years ago. Scientists have also revealed that the Milky Way Galaxy which formed around 13.6 billion years ago was among the first galaxies to come into existence just 200 million years after the big bang. Astronomers have always wondered what the Milky Way looked like in its early years.
To feed our curiosity and answer one of the most powerful questions of the Cosmos, a group of scientists recently used NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) to discover another galaxy that has similar features to the Milky Way and stands as the mirror image of our home galaxy as a baby galactic world. Astronomers nicknamed this new galaxy, “The Sparkler” as it possesses two dozen glittering globular clusters around its orbit.
A closer observation of this galaxy reveals that a few dwarf galaxies are being consumed by the Sparkler. The Webb Space Telescope reveals the mind-blowing features of this new galaxy as it observes when the Universe was about four billion years old. From the data provided by Webb during this observation, scientists learned that the Sparkler began to form in the same period as the Milky Way Galaxy during the early years of the Universe.
Astronomers were amazed as this galaxy consume other smaller dwarf galaxies in its part. Hence, they conclude that if the Sparkler grows through galaxy mergers and acquisitions, then the Milky Way galaxy must have followed the same growth path billions of years ago.
Based on the way the Sparkler is swallowing other dwarf galaxies in its path, scientists estimate that it could take a similar shape and structure as the Milky Way galaxy in the next nine billion years.
What You Should Know About this Galaxy
Astronomers carefully studied the Sparkler and discovers that it lies in the direction of the constellation Volans. This is approximately in the southern hemisphere sky. With the redshift of z = 1.38, scientists estimate the galaxy is far away from us.
They calculated its distance and estimated that the Sparkler is about 9 billion light years away from us. This implies that it actually came into existence a few billion years after the Big Bang. Both the Sparkler and the Milky Way did not emerge fully formed.
How the Sparkler Galaxy Was Formed
Like the Milky Way, the Sparkler didn’t spring up out of the cosmos fully formed. Its formation began like clouds of neutral hydrogen of matter coming together under the influence of gravity in the early universe. Before the formation of these galaxies, clumps that allow the birth of globular clusters were formed.
Some stars that exist in some of these globular clusters appear to be older than their galaxies because of this. After the basic formation of galaxies, the infant will begin to travel through space merging and acquiring other nearby dwarf galaxies. This evolutionary step is actually important in the main formation of the galaxy. Our milky way galaxy followed the same pathway to get to this level.
The sparkler is currently swallowing dwarf galaxies as it travels. After merging with these new galactic worlds, it will take a while before the entire material of the newly acquired galaxies will fully become part of the cannibalizing galaxy.
Comparing the Future of Sparkler to that of the Milky Way Galaxy
Data provided by NASA James Webb Space Telescope about the Sparkler has revealed that the galaxy will likely follow the same evolutionary path as the Milky Way galaxy the Sparkler only has about 3 percent mass of our home galaxy.
This implies that the newly spotted galaxy will still have to travel and consume smaller galaxies to match the current mass of the Milky Way. Since astronomers have spotted this fascinating galactic world, they will continue to study it to understand how our home galaxy evolved to become this big.
One of the professors that have been studying galaxies and their clusters is Professor Duncan Forbes of Swinburne University in Australia. He recently studied the Sparkler and its clusters with Professor Aaron Romanowsky of San Jose State University in California. Both scientists were amazed by the discovery that they made from the observation.
“We appear to be witnessing, first hand, the assembly of this galaxy as it builds up its mass – in the form of a dwarf galaxy and several globular clusters,” said Professor Duncan Forbes. “We are excited by this unique opportunity to study both the formation of globular clusters and an infant Milky Way, at a time when the Universe was only 1/3 of its present age,” he concluded.
The two professors conducted their observations by studying the data provided by the JWST while observing the early Universe. The scientists explore the ages and metallicities of numerous sparkles in and around the Sparkler galaxy.
The primary aim of the study is to analyze the metallicity across a range of compact star clusters around the Sparkler. Forbes and Romanowsky intended to see if they look quite familiar to the early versions of the Milky Way’s globulars.
“The origin of globular clusters is a long-standing mystery,” he said. “We are thrilled that JWST can look back in time to see them in their youth,” said Romanowsky.
After conducting the study, the scientists learned that the Sparkler clusters have a close resemblance to some of the younger Milky Way’s globular. The study also proves that the stars formed during the early universe a rich in metal, indicating the chemical enrichment in the early universe.
While this discovery has enabled scientists to learn about the early stage of the Milky Way, they still need more data to understand more about the evolutionary state of the sparkler and its clusters. The data obtained from further observations will help in proving if the Sparkler will follow a similar galaxy evolution as the Milky Way. What do you think about this discovery?
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is it called the milky Way?
The Milky Way galaxy was initially called the Via Galactica or road made of Milky by the ancient Romans. Our home galaxy was later identified as the Milky Way which is a name gotten from a Greek myth about the goddess Hera who sprayed milk in the sky. However, other regions of the world have different and unique names for the Milky Way. For example, in China, it is known as the Silver River, while in the Kalahari Desert in Southern Africa, it is identified as the Backbone of Night.
Can Humans See the Milky Way?
Yes. Humans can see the Milky Way from Earth. No matter your exact location on Earth, you can spot the Milky Way if there is no light pollution and if the sky is clear. But you should always keep in mind that the Milky Way tends to move in the sky as the Earth rotates.
How many planets are in the Milky Way?
NASA reveals that there are at least 100 billion planets in the Milky Way Galaxy alone. However, other sources still insist that the Milky Way Galaxy might have about 100 to 200 billion planets. Based on our scientific exploration of the Cosmos, we have only discovered about 4,000 exoplanets. But as we grow technologically as a civilization, we will likely discover more planets.