Astronomers Find Giant Collisional Ring Galaxy, Shaped Like a Doughnut

Astronomers have spotted a galaxy that resembles a ‘cosmic ring of fire,’ as it existed 11 billion years ago, and which could help experts learn more about the way galactic structures take shape and develop.

The incredibly rare type of galaxy has a similar mass to the Milky Way, but it has the shape of a doughnut with an opening in the middle, as per a press release from the ARC Centre of Excellence for All Sky Astrophysics in 3 Dimensions (ASTRO 3D). Scientists from the institution managed to snap an image of the cosmic body and can now show the way it looked like 11 billion years ago.

“It is a very curious object that we’ve never seen before,” said lead researcher Tiantian Yuan in a statement. “It looks strange and familiar at the same time.”

The First Collisional Ring Galaxy in the Early Universe

The galaxy has been dubbed R5519, and it is located 11 billion light-years from our Solar System. The hole at its core is about two billion times more massive than the distance between Earth and the Sun, the scientists revealed.

“It is making stars at a rate 50 times greater than the Milky Way,” said Yuan. “Most of that activity is taking place on its ring — so it truly is a ring of fire.”

Yuan and fellow researchers from around the globe used spectroscopic data to detect the galaxy, and evidence implies that it may be the first ‘collisional ring galaxy’ to exist in the young Universe. Collisional ring galaxies take shape after they collide with other galaxies.

Composite image of the ring galaxy R5519 compiled from single-color images. [Image: Tiantian Yuan/Hubble Space Telescope]
The new study could help astronomers learn more about the way our own Milky Way took shape, co-author Kenneth Freeman from the Australian National University, explained. For a collisional ring galaxy to form from the clash between two galaxies, a ‘thin disk’ of material has to be present in one of the objects before the collision takes place.

Spiral galaxies such as our Milky Way have thin disks, which started to form around nine billion years ago, while this collisional ring galaxy is approximately 11 billion years old, said Freeman.

“This discovery is an indication that disk assembly in spiral galaxies occurred over a more extended period than previously thought,” he added.

The finding is detailed in full in the journal Nature Astronomy.

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