There are more than a trillion galaxies in the universe. And my team discovered an extremely rare one, a galaxy that doesn't look quite like anything observed before. This galaxy is so peculiar, that it challenges our theories and our assumptions about how the universe works.
The majority of the galaxies are spiral, similar to our own Milky Way. We have strong theories about how these common galaxies form and evolve. But we don't understand how rare galaxies form and evolve. An especially puzzling rare case is Hoag's Object. It has a very symmetric central body surrounded by a circular outer ring, with nothing visible connecting them. Hoag-type galaxies are among the rarest types of galaxies currently known. There are fewer than one in 1,000 galaxies. It's a mystery how the stars in the outer ring are just floating there in such an orderly manner. That's interesting, right? Hold on. Things are about to get more mysterious.
The galaxy that my team discovered is even rarer and much more complex than that. You know, sometimes, you search and search for these objects, and you find nothing. But sometimes, it just appears in the background, when you are not even looking for it. This system looks very similar to Hoag's Object, with its central body and circular outer ring. We got very excited and thought we discovered another Hoag's Object. But my research showed this is an entirely new galaxy type, now commonly referred to as "Burçin's Galaxy."
We will not be visiting this galaxy anytime soon. It is approximately 359 million light years away from Earth. You may think this is far. Well, actually, this is one of the nearby galaxies. I study this object in different light — in ultraviolet, optical and near-infrared. Small details on our body, like a scar or wrinkles, tell the story of our lives. Similarly, a galaxy's structure in different light can help us trace back their origin and evolution.
How do I look for these details? I model the bright central body and remove my model from the image to check for any hidden features, because a bright structure in a galaxy may blind our views of faint features, just like using sunglasses when you are blinded by the intense light.
The result was a big surprise. This galaxy doesn't just have an outer ring, it has an additional, diffused inner ring. We were having a hard time explaining the origin of the outer ring in Hoag-type galaxies. Now we also need to explain this mysterious second ring.
There is currently no known mechanism that can explain the existence of an inner ring in such a peculiar galaxy. So the discovery of Burçin's Galaxy clearly highlights the gap in our knowledge of galaxy evolution. Further research into how this extremely rare galaxy was formed can provide us with new clues on how the universe works. This discovery tells us that we still have a lot to learn, and we should keep looking deeper and deeper in space and keep searching for the unknown.