'Little lion,' as the galaxy has been dubbed, may hold exciting new clues about the Big Bang

What the discovery of a rare blue galaxy can tell us about the birth of the universeImage: NASA /A Hirschauer & J. Salzer, Indiana University/J Cannon, Macalester College /K. McQuinn University of Texas
news Space Exploration Tuesday, May 17, 2016 - 14:04

Galaxy AGC 198691 (dubbed Leoncino, or little lion), a faint, blue galaxy discovered near our own Milky Way, could hold answers to the big bang, astronomers at the Indiana University say, adding that it could could hold the answers about conditions at the time of the universe's birth.  

The galaxy is said to contain the lowest level of heavy chemicals, i.e. elements other than hydrogen and helium, also known as 'metals' in astronomy terms. 

The current model explaining the Big Bang makes precise predictions of the ratios of helium and hydrogen at that time of the explosion. 

"Finding the most metal-poor galaxy ever is exciting since it could help contribute to a quantitative test of the Big Bang," said John J. Salzer. He is an author on the paper that published these findings on May 12 in the Astrophysical Journal. 

"There are relatively few ways to explore conditions at the birth of the universe, but low-metal galaxies are among the most promising," he adds.

Leoncino, a dwarf galaxy, is only about 1,000 light years in diameter. A light year is used to measure distances of astronomical proportions and is the amount of distance that light travels in a year at the speed of 3,00,00 km/sec.

For comparison, the Milky Way is a 100,000 light years across, and consists of billions of stars, of which our Sun is one. 

The age of the stars in a galaxy can be determined by its colour. While younger stars are blue, middle aged ones yellow while elderly stars are red or white. 

Leoncino is blue in color, due to the presence of recently formed hot stars, but uncharacteristically pale, with the lowest luminosity level for systems of its type.

 

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