No, it's not the Eye of Sauron. Image Credit: ALMA / Rizzo et al.
A 12 billion-year-old galaxy in the distant universe looks uncannily like a miniature version of the Milky Way.
In a new study, scientists using Chile's Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope have identified a distant galaxy that looks a lot like our own.
Thing is, this infant galaxy is 12 billion light years away - meaning that it must have formed only 1.5 billion years after the Big Bang, a tumultuous time when early galaxies would have smashed into one another and when stable spiral galaxies like the Milky Way were not thought to have existed.
Yet this one - named SPT0418-47 - clearly does exist.
"This result represents a breakthrough in the field of galaxy formation, showing that the structures that we observe in nearby spiral galaxies and in our Milky Way were already in place 12 billion years ago," said study first author Francesca Rizzo from Germany's Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics.
The galaxy was observed using a technique known as gravitational lensing which takes advantage of the fact that massive objects such as galaxies bend light and magnify distant objects behind them.
While the resultant image looks more like the Eye of Sauron than the Milky Way, by using computer modelling techniques it was possible to derive what the galaxy actually looks like.
It is hoped that the discovery will help scientists learn more about galaxy formation in the early universe.
"When I first saw the reconstructed image of SPT0418-47 I could not believe it," said Rizzo.