A team of astrophysicists at the Green Bank National Radio Astronomy Observatory accidentally discovered a rare spiral galaxy with no stars. This could be the first discovery of a primordial galaxy, a cloud of gas that has remained unchanged since the beginning of the universe. No one specifically intended to look at the part of the sky that the Green Bank radio telescope happened to be aimed at. The plan was to use France’s Nance radio telescope to observe a completely different part of the sky. Both groups worked on a program to observe galaxies with low surface brightness (LSB galaxies, galaxies with low surface brightness). These are mainly dwarf galaxies containing rare stars. Such objects are 95% dark matter and contain far more interstellar gas than visible stars. The radio telescope was now ready to collect data on the interstellar gas at the observatory, and it happened like a fluke.
The findings stunned scientists. They saw an object, designated J0613+52, with a size and shape reminiscent of a classic spiral galaxy like our Milky Way or others. However, not a single star was discovered in it. The gas cloud behaved like a galaxy and rotated around its center, as shown by Doppler shift measurements. One area of it was moving towards us, the other was moving away from us.
The object behaved as if all the stars had suddenly disappeared from the Milky Way. It is possible that the gas density in the J0613+52 galaxy was insufficient to trigger star formation processes, and external events triggering this process did not occur. Scientists do not rule out that they simply did not see stars in J0613+52, but they reserve the right to hope that this may be the first discovery in our part of the Universe of a primary galaxy, such as it was 13.8 billion years ago.
Further observation of J0613+52 may be difficult because it is only visible in radio wavelengths. But this also makes us think about searching for similar objects in other parts of the sky using radio telescopes. Scientists have found something potentially surprising and are now eager to find out more about it.