In my eternal effort to link everything in space to a “Star Trek” storyline, when Discovery News Tech Producer Tracy Staedter emailed me this little cube-shaped nugget, I could barely keep my cool. “It’s the Borg home galaxy!” I replied. (I’m certain Tracy was as excited as I was.)
Sure, I may have had one too many coffees, but the discovery of a galaxy that appears to be rectangular in shape not only kick-started my sci-fi geek, it contradicts what we know about the formation of large collections of stars.
Generally speaking, we are accustomed to seeing beautiful spiral galaxies, that have arms gracefully flowing from the galactic core and out into interstellar space — not too dissimilar to our Milky Way. However, not all galaxies are painted with the same cosmic brush.
Some galaxies appear perfectly flat and disk-like, whereas others form a spherical cluster. Some are elliptical, while others are completely irregular. But there’s a general trend — they’re curvy, wavy, sometimes splotchy and other times completely ripped to shreds. They are never rectangular.
Actually, that’s not entirely correct.
According to astronomers at Swinburne University of Technology in Australia, eight “rectangular” examples have been cataloged during a survey of millions of galaxies. And there’s one galaxy in particular that has caught their eye.
As discussed by the arXiv blog on Wednesday, the galaxy designated “LEDA 074886,” is around 21 megaparsecs (or 70 million light-years) from Earth and lives in a group of about 250 dwarf galaxies in the constellation of Eridanus. It’s also small, weighing-in at only 10 billion times the mass of the sun — that’s a thousand times smaller than our galaxy.
“We affectionately call the “emerald cut galaxy” given its striking resemblance to an emerald cut diamond,” the astronomers say. (I still prefer my Borg reference.)
So how did this strange little galaxy (and others like it) form?
Actually, this may be more of an optical illusion than a galaxy with rectangular features. It may be that LEDA 074886 is actually two galaxies “stacked” atop one another during a merging event. When viewed from the side, a striking rectangular shape is formed.
Obviously, more research is required, but I’m sad to say that the location of a artificial Borg-like galaxy probably hasn’t been uncovered. Shame.
Source: arXiv blog
Image: LEDA 074886 as observed by the Suprime-Cam at the Subaru Telescope, Hawaii. Credit: Graham et al., 2012/Swinburne University of Technology.