‘Baby’ Milky Way discovered 12B light years away

PARIS (AFP) – A golden halo glinting 12 billion light years away is the farthest galaxy resembling our Milky Way yet spotted, astronomers said on Wednesday, adding the “surprisingly unchaotic” infant star system challenges our understanding of the early years of the Universe.

The galaxy, called SPT0418-47, is so far away that it took billions of years for its light to reach Earth and so our image of it is from deep in the past, said the European Southern Observatory (ESO), which was involved in the discovery.

This was when the Universe was 1.4 billion years old – just 10 per cent of its current age – and galaxies were still forming.

The “baby” SPT0418-47 was picked up by the powerful Alma radio telescope in Chile using a technique called gravitational lensing, where a nearby galaxy acts as a powerful magnifying glass, the ESO said in a statement.

It has features similar to our Milky Way – a rotating disc and a bulge, which is the high density of stars packed tightly around the galactic centre.

“This is the first time a bulge has been seen this early in the history of the Universe, making SPT0418-47 the most distant Milky Way look-alike,” the ESO said. SPT0418-47 appeared “surprisingly unchaotic, contradicting theories that all galaxies in the early Universe were turbulent and unstable”, it said.