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Small blue galaxy may spill Big Bang clues

The spiral galaxy NGC 4258, also known as M106, has two extra spiral arms as seen in this undated composite image X-ray data from NASA?s Chandra X-ray Observatory, radio data from the NSF?s Karl Jansky Very Large Array, optical data from NASA?s Hubble Space Telescope and infrared data from NASA?s Spitzer Space Telescope. The image was published in the June 20, 2014 issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letter. REUTERS/NASA/Handout via Reuters (UNITED STATES - Tags: SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY) ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS

Washington: A faint blue galaxy about 30 million light-years from Earth and located in the constellation Leo Minor could shed new light on conditions at the birth of the universe.

Astronomers at Indiana University recently found that a galaxy nicknamed Leoncino or ” little lion” contains the lowest level of heavy chemical elements or “metals” ever observed in a gravitationally bound system of stars.

Co-author John J. Salzer said that finding the most metal-poor galaxy ever is exciting since it could help contribute to a quantitative test of the Big Bang. There are relatively few ways to explore conditions at the birth of the universe, but low-metal galaxies are among the most promising.

This is because the current accepted model of the start of the universe makes clear predictions about the amount of helium and hydrogen present during the Big Bang and the ratio of these atoms in metal-poor galaxies provides a direct test of the model.

“Low metal abundance is essentially a sign that very little stellar activity has taken place compared to most galaxies,” lead author Alec S. Hirschauer said.

“We’re eager to continue to explore this mysterious galaxy,” said Salzer, adding “Low-metal-abundance galaxies are extremely rare, so we want to learn everything we can.”

The study appears in Astrophysical Journal. (ANI)