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Surprising Science

Newly Discovered: Green Bean Galaxies

Named for their size and bright color, these objects allow astronomers a new look into the lifespans of galaxies and the black holes at their centers.

What’s the Latest Development?

Astronomer Mischa Schirmer was looking at images from the Canada-France-Hawaii telescope when he came across something very unusual in the constellation of Aquarius: a galaxy that was bright green in color. Further observations and recordings done with the Very Large and Gemini South telescopes confirmed the existence of 17 of these objects, which have been nicknamed “green bean” galaxies to distinguish them from similarly colored but smaller green pea galaxies. They “are so rare that there is on average only one in a cube about 1.3 billion light-years across.” Schirmer’s initial discovery, labeled J2240, is about 3.7 billion light-years away.

What’s the Big Idea?

Unlike many galaxies, which have glowing centers that only occupy up to 10 percent of the total diameter, these galaxies’ centers take up almost the entire diameter, making them so bright that they can be easily observed from Earth despite their distance. Such brightness would normally be associated with a still-active center black hole, but Schirmer’s team discovered that in J2240’s case it was not as active as they expected. They hope to study these objects further to gain more information about the different stages of galaxy evolution.

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