‘Unexpected’ discovery of ‘spectacular looking polar ring’ is ‘happy accident’

Scientists have 'unexpectedly' discovered two strange celestial objects close to our galaxy.

A team of astronomers have found two potential polar ring galaxies a type of galaxy with an outer ring of gas and stars that rotates. The celestial rarity is thought to form when two galaxies gravitationally interact with each other, where a larger galaxy swallows a smaller one.

The new found galaxies have been labelled NGC 4632, located around 56million light years from Earth in the constellation of Virgo, and NGC 6156, located around 150 million light-years away in the constellation of Ara.

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Up until now, finding a polar ring galaxy was thought to be quite rare but that has been disputed in a new report. If polar ring galaxies are more common than originally thought, this means these mergers are also more frequent.

Nathan Deg, team co-leader and Queen's University researcher, said in a statement: "Polar ring galaxies are some of the most spectacular looking galaxies in the universe. These findings suggest that one to three percent of nearby galaxies may have gaseous polar rings, which is much higher than suggested by optical telescopes."

Kristine Speakers, research co-leader and Queen's University scientist, admitted that the findings were somewhat of a happy accident as she admitted that it was 'unexpected'. However, she still put it down to the in depth and hard work of her peers.

Adding to the statement, she said: "These results are a really nice illustration of the tremendous value of mapping the sky more deeply and more widely than has ever been done before. This is serendipity at its best: we found things we certainly didn't expect to find."

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The team of scientists used colour gradients to subtly convey the motion happening within the polar ring. The colours showed purple regions at the disk's base highlighting areas moving towards Earth, while white regions at the peak of the disk move away from our home planet. Jayanne English, a University of Manitoba scientist and member of the discovery team, explained that this data was useful because "gives us some clues as to how galaxies evolve over time".

At the moment NGC 4632 and NGC 6156 have not been definitely confirmed as polar ring galaxies, but it is thought that that's what they are. The researchers are still studying their findings with a wide range of telescopes so that they can make a confirmation.

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