The vast majority of galaxies are either flattened, disklike spirals like our own Milky Way, ellipsoidal rugby ball-shaped blobs, or irregular clumps of stars. Now, an international team of astronomers has found a rare exception: a galaxy shaped like a rectangle. The boxy agglomeration (false color image above), dubbed LEDA 074886, is one of about 250 galaxies in the cluster surrounding the giant galaxy NGC 1407, which lies about 70 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Eridanus. A disk of bluish, relatively young stars at the center of LEDA 074886 hints at one possible reason the galaxy has an "emerald-cut" shape: It could be the remnant of a collision between two smaller galaxies in which preexisting stars were strewn into a boxy halo and gas clouds gravitated toward the center of the mass and coalesced to form new stars, the researchers will report in a forthcoming issue of The Astrophysical Journal. They also note that after our Milky Way collides with the nearby Andromeda galaxy, perhaps 3 billion years from now, our descendants might live in a boxy galaxy, too.
See more ScienceShots.