A UMD student's discovery is rocking the space world

The graduate student noticed a detail about a newly-discovered galaxy that appears to be unprecedented

A University of Minnesota Duluth graduate student's startling discovery is getting attention around the world.

But it's startling mainly just to people who study astronomy or astrophysics, so you may not have heard about it.

Let us explain.

She studies galaxies

Burcin Mutlu-Pakdil has spent the last eight months studying a newly-discovered galaxy.

There are about a gazillion galaxies out there and new ones are being discovered all the time, so that's not the startling part.

The one Burcin's been looking at is a very rare kind. It showed up in some images taken by the associate dean at UMD's Swenson College of Science and Engineering, Marc Seigar.

Most galaxies, like our Milky Way, are shaped like a disc but this one has a round core with a ring around it, the university explains. Astronomers say only about 0.1 percent of all the galaxies out there are like that.

But now comes the startling part: Burcin discovered that this one actually has two rings.

'A brand-new type of galaxy'

"No one's ever seen a galaxy like this before," UMD's Seigar tells the News Tribune.

He's one of the co-authors of the scholarly paper on the discovery, which was published last week by Oxford University's Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. The paper's lead author is his student, Burcin Mutlu-Pakdil.

Science Alert also calls it "a brand-new type of galaxy," although some publications are hedging a little. Space.com calls it one of the rarest types of galaxies ever seen and Science Daily just calls it extremely rare.

Here's a video of Burcin talking about the discovery along with another of her colleagues, who is from the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

How does this help?

Scientists don't really have a straight answer for the question: how does a galaxy form? But they're getting closer.

And the best clues come not from the gazillion galaxies that look like ours, but from the odd ones. And a double-ringed one adds a whole new twist, which could be a breakthrough.

Burcin, who is on track to earn her doctorate from UMD in May, told the News Tribune: “This really shows us that we really have lots of things to learn and investigate and, because of that, I’m really excited to be a part of this puzzle.”

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