Astronomers snap a picture of a "cosmic ring of fire" galaxy

Astronomers from Swinburne University of Technology have successfully captured an image of a very rare type of galaxy described as a "cosmic ring of fire." The image shows the galaxy as it existed 11 billion years ago. It's roughly the mass of the Milky Way and is circular with a hole in the middle.The discovery could change theories about the earliest formation of galactic structures and how they evolve. The galaxy is called R5519 and is 11 billion light-years from our solar system. The hole in the center of the galaxy is massive, with a diameter two billion times longer than the distance between the Earth and the Sun.

Scientists point out that the hole is also 3 million times larger than the diameter of the supermassive black hole in the center of Messier 87. That was the first black hole to be directly imaged. R5519 is making stars at a rate 50 times greater than that of the Milky Way, according to the scientists. Most of the star-making activities take place on the ring of the galaxy.

Evidence suggests that R5519 is a type of galaxy known as a "collisional ring galaxy," making it the first one ever located in the early universe. Two types of ring galaxies exist with the more common type forming because of internal processes. Collisional ring galaxies form as the result of immense and violent encounters with other galaxies.

R5519 is about 10.8 billion years old, just 3 billion years after the Big Bang. Collisional ring galaxies have always been extraordinarily uncommon and are 1000 times rarer than the internally created type. The image allows scientists to look back at the early universe by 11 billion years at that time when thin discs were only just assembling.