Astronomers ‘accidentally’ discover a new galaxy with as many stars as the Milky Way

An artist's impression of what a massive galaxy in the early universe might look likeSwinburne Astronomy Productions

  • Astronomers 'accidentally' discovered a new galaxy.
  • The galaxy has just as many stars as the Milky Way but is forming new ones much faster.
  • The discovery is the first time that scientists have captured a 'monster' galaxy in its nascent stages.
They might not have gone looking for it, but they found it. Astronomers 'accidentally' stumbled across a new monster galaxy that was assumed to be folklore by the scientific community.

The discovery of the 'cosmic Yeti' is the first time that scientists have been able to see a galaxy this big in nascent stages of development.

"We figured out that the galaxy is actually a massive monster galaxy with as many stars as our Milky Way, but brimming with activity, forming new stars at 100 times the rate of our galaxy," according to the study's co-author Ivo Labbe.

The 'accidental' discovery

Christina Williams, lead author of the study, was going through data collected by the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA), when she suddenly noticed a light glimmering.


"It was very mysterious because the light seemed not to be linked to any known galaxy at all," recalled Williams.

"When I saw this galaxy was invisible at any other wavelength, I got really excited because it meant that it was probably really far away and hidden by clouds of dust," she said.

For the very first time

Previous galaxies discovered by astronomers are either already mature or much smaller and growing slowly, even from when the universe was only a 'cosmic toddler' — at 10% of its current age.

The mature galaxies seemed to appear out of nowhere and scientists were puzzling over their origins. Other than the fact that they formed very quickly, there are still a lot of gaps to fill.

This newly discovered galaxy — estimated to be 12.5 billion years old — could provide the answers.

"Our hidden monster galaxy has precisely the right ingredients to be that missing link because they are probably a lot more common," explained Williams.

In order to get more information, the team is waiting for the James Webb Space Telescope to launch — tenatatively in March 2021 — which will allow for a more detailed investigation.

See also:
Two massive bubbles stretch 700 light years above and below the center of the Milky Way

Milky Way's neighbour might not be so 'dead' with young stars brewing at its center

Supermassive black hole is tearing apart a star which got too close