Imagine you could step out of our Milky Way a few million light-years and take a look back. This is the sort of view you might see. That is because this dazzling new image from the Hubble Space Telescope is of a galaxy that is thought to resemble our own.
Known as NGC 1073, and lying 55 million light-years away in the constellation of Cetus, it is a spiral galaxy, like so many classic “star cities”, but has a distinctive bar across its middle. This bar apparently denotes a galaxy that has moved on from being a bright young thing and headed into middle age.
Its time of intense star formation has ended and older, red stars begin to dominate rather than younger, blue ones.
Studies show that more than two thirds of spiral galaxies in the Universe today are of the barred type whereas only a fifth showed the feature in the younger, early Universe. The star-filled bars are thought to form as gravitational density waves channel gas towards the centre of the galaxy, making new stars and possibly also feeding a supermassive black hole lying there.