In what could be a glimpse into the primordial state of the universe shortly after the Big Bang, scientists have observed for the first time one of the first spiral galaxies to have come into existence.
The spiral galaxy, which formed around 3 billion years after the Big Bang (in cosmological time, it’s not as long a period as you may think) is said to be unique because according to researchers, the time period after the Big Bang was apparently too chaotic for anything of substance to coalesce or form, still settling down from the cataclysmic events of the Big Band itself, but the spiral galaxy in question, galaxy BX442, apparently bucked the conditions at the time and formed into, according to the researchers, a "grand-design" spiral galaxy.
Researchers from the University of Toronto's Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics first observed galaxy BX442 as the only spiral galaxy after studying more than 300 galaxies using images taken by the Hubble Telescope.
According to the researchers, conditions after the Big Bang did not permit gravity to allow matter to form such perfect shapes, but galaxy BX442 was fortunate because it was provided for by a smaller dwarf galaxy that gave it a gravitational boost to form its perfect shape.
Speaking to the BBC, Professor Dave Law of the University of Toronto spoke about the galaxy, saying, "What we've learned when we look at galaxies at that epoch is that they're very dynamically hot. Even though we see some discs existing at that time, they're very thick and puffy, whereas the Milky Way has an... amount of random motion only about a tenth or so the amount of ordered rotation, giving rise to a very thin disc."
To get a better look at galaxy BX442, the University of Toronto researchers used the OH-Suppressing Infrared Integral Field Spectrograph at the Keck observatory in Hawaii to get a clearer picture of the galaxy and confirmed something that they had seen in the Hubble data, that a smaller dwarf galaxy was orbiting galaxy BX442, giving it a gravitational “kick.”
Dr. Law explained, “You can get a little extra help if you've got a satellite galaxy orbiting around. It gives that extra little gravitational kick to help accentuate the strength of the arm and make it into one of those eye-popping examples like the Whirlpool galaxy that you see all the pictures of."
The team said that the new data had helped prove that the near perfectly-formed spiral galaxy could form at such a time after the Big Bang and that with the CANDELS (Cosmic Assembly Near-Infrared Deep Extragalactic Legacy Survey) survey, which hopes to study the "Cosmic Dawn" and "Cosmic High Noon" of the universe, they would try to conduct a wider galaxy survey.