Since the beginning of civilization, scientists have been trying to unravel the mysteries of our galaxy. Although many phenomena occur so far away, these discoveries can nevertheless shed light on our understanding of the Milky Way. One distant cluster of stars, for example, has recently gained the attention of many curious minds. A team of international astronomers has discovered what could potentially bridge the gap between the past and present of our galaxy: a fossil relic of the early Milky Way.
What is a relic of Outer Space?
The newly discovered star cluster of the Milky Way, Terzan 5, is 19,000 km away from Earth. According to Francesco Ferraro from the University of Bologna in Italy and lead author of the study, this discovery could "represent an intriguing link between the local and distant Universe, a surviving witness of the Galactic bulge assembly process." In other words, Terzan 5 could help us better comprehend the galaxy formation process, and, moreover, how such a huge mass managed to survive undisrupted for these past 12 billion years.
According to David Shiga, there are three populations of stars from different time periods which, as he claims, could be "a few tens of millions of years [old] each." Given the location and age of the globular cluster, Shiga states that Terzan 5 could potentially be evidence of a previous galaxy that existed before the Milky Way. What remains could be evidence of it having been “dismembered” by the creation of our home galaxy.
How does a relic come to exist within our Universe?
According to Professor Dr. H. M. Schmid at the Institute for Astronomy in Zurich, galaxies “were born by the assembly of baryonic matter in the growing potential wells of dark matter concentrations in an expanding Universe.” As galaxies evolve, they go through a number of processes such as assembling gasses to create large star formations and interacting with other galaxies.
Stars form after the collapse of dense gaseous clouds that expend most of their energy during a Supernova explosion; after the explosion, the gasses dissipate into the Universe to form, as Dr. Schmid states, “a new generation of stars.”
What could this mean for us?
With the newly discovered cluster, Terzan 5, astronomers can better understand the complexities involved in galaxy formations, not only for the Milky Way but for the various kinds of galaxies co-existing within the Universe. Moreover, the breakthrough with Terzan 5 allows astronomers to speculate about the Universe’s past, and thus, establish hypotheses about the Universe’s and our galaxy’s future.
Astronomer Piotto from the University of Padua in Italy, claims that "stars are not as simple as we are teaching to our students.” Not only is there more to learn about the day and night sky, but there is no limit to what experts can discover about our history as living organisms; after all, we are only one single planet in an entire galaxy.
The impact of this discovery will undoubtedly be evident in future hypotheses, ideas, innovations, and technologies that go into preserving and understanding our home planet; it will enable us to continue gathering knowledge on how and why we are here. As Dr. H. M. Schmid further claims, by the year “2020 there should exist for ‘most’ stars on ‘our side’ of the Milky Way a very accurate position map with stellar motion parameters.” In other words, it will become easier, with more discoveries such as this, to be more precise with charting stars, clusters, and galaxies, so as to evaluate the “origin and evolution of the Milky Way.”