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A tiny galaxy circling the Milky Way may be a fossil left over from the early Universe, astronomers say. A recent study found that the stars in the galaxy, called Segue 1, contain fewer heavy elements than those of any other galaxy known, implying that the object may have stopped evolving almost 13 billion years ago. If true, Segue 1 could offer a window into the conditions of the early Universe and reveal how some of the first galaxies came to be.

Segue 1 is very, very tiny. It appears to contain only a few hundred stars, compared with the few hundred billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy. Researchers led by Anna Frebel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge collected detailed information on the elemental composition of six of the brightest of Segue 1’s stars using the Las Campanas Observatory’s Magellan Telescopes in Chile and the Keck Observatory in Hawaii. The measurements, reported in a paper accepted for Astrophysical Journal and posted on the arXiv repository, revealed that these stars are made almost entirely of hydrogen and helium, and contain just trace amounts of heavier elements such as iron. No other galaxy studied holds so few heavy elements, making Segue 1 the “least chemically evolved galaxy known.”

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