In general, galaxies take a very long time to form, and when I say that, I mean billions of years. Galaxies typically build up very slowly and take that time to acquire the bulk of what makes them so vast and large. However, recently scientists discovered a galaxy that seems to have appeared in our universe when it was only 1.8 billion years old.
While 1.8 billion years seems like an unfathomable amount of time to understand, just know that the Milky Way galaxy, which our planet is currently in, took around 13.6 billion years to fully form to be habitual for life. This galaxy is thought to have formed stars at rates hundreds of times greater than the Milky Way.
In less than 500 million years, this galaxy has managed to form over 200 billion stars. Scientists are viewing this as one of the universe’s “greatest speed runs,” in terms of creating new galaxies. Galaxies start as very small nuggets of stars that take hundreds of millions, and even billions, of years to merge with one another and begin to grow.
This process is called the “hierarchical model,” and is one of the main theories used in the science community to explain how galaxies grow over cosmic time. Astronomers based at the University of Arizona were using the facilities Large Binocular Telescope when they spotted the “oddball” that was previously not in other scans.
The galaxy is currently called C1-23152, and is billions of light years away from Earth. Its light has been reportedly traveling for over 12 billion years, making it one of the youngest galaxies on the cosmic scene due to the fact that it appeared when our universe was only 1.8 billion years old.
Scientists were able to determine that the galaxy grew from basically nothing throughout the course of 500 million years by measuring the age, metal content, and velocity of the stars that are in C1-23152.
At its peak of formation the galaxy was forming stars by the hundreds every year, averaging a few stars every single day. This rate of creation is pretty astounding, and often unheard of in terms of galaxy formation. For some perspective, our Milky Way Galaxy currently produces only a handful of stars every year.
C1-23152 is now known as a massive superstar galaxy after years of being a little cosmic speck in the corner of the telescope. Scientists are still trying to determine how the galaxy was able to grow at such an exponential rate. The usual hierarchical method doesn’t really apply here due to the speed of the galaxy’s formation alone.
Astronomers at the moment believe that C1-23152’s creation was actually the result of a massive cosmic accident. They believe that two giant gas clouds located in the early universe collided and triggered a round of rapid star formation that was able to persist through hundreds of millions of years to form an entire galaxy.
Scientists will continue to monitor C1-23152 and any other galaxy that appears to have formed at a similar rate. The hope is gather a greater understanding in general over how galaxies are formed beyond just the hierarchical method that scientists have been using for decades now.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.