Researchers have discovered a galaxy roughly the size of our Milky Way that's being described as a “cosmic ring of fire.”
Known as R5519, the galaxy is 10.8 billion light-years from Earth. It's also circular, similar in shape to a doughnut, the researchers noted in a statement.
“It is a very curious object that we’ve never seen before,” said lead researcher Dr. Tiantian Yuan in the statement. “It looks strange and familiar at the same time.”
R5519 was first observed by the WM Keck Observatory in Hawaii and NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.
The astronomers noted R5519 is comprised of a ring of stars, known as a “collisional ring galaxy.” Given its age, it's one of the first-ever located in the early universe. For comparison purposes, the universe itself is widely believed to be 13.8 billion years old.
As evidenced by its shape, it's possible the galaxy got its shape after colliding with another object in the early universe, the researchers wrote in the study.
“The collisional formation of ring galaxies requires a thin disk to be present in the ‘victim’ galaxy before the collision occurs,” one of the study's co-authors, Australian National University Professor Kenneth Freeman, explained.
“In the case of this ring galaxy, we are looking back into the early universe by 11 billion years, into a time when thin disks were only just assembling," Freeman added. "For comparison, the thin disk of our Milky Way began to come together only about nine billion years ago. This discovery is an indication that disk assembly in spiral galaxies occurred over a more extended period than previously thought.”
The study was published in the scientific journal Nature Astronomy.