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Page last updated at 12:48 GMT, Monday, 15 February 2010
First heart shaped galaxy found
Georgia Barrie

Georgia Barrie is a Masters student at Oxford University. She specialises in the formation of ring galaxies.

While examining the world's biggest catalogue of the ring galaxies ever compiled, she noticed one that was heart shaped.

It was originally observed by users of the online survey tool called Galaxy Zoo who classed it as a ring galaxy.

When Georgia saw it she realised that it wasn't just a normal galaxy and was actually something very unusual indeed.

It's the first time a heart shaped galaxy like this has been seen, and there is currently no explanation for how it formed.

It is thought that it could possibly be the result of a collision of two ring galaxies. Galaxy Zoo users have been asked to offer their own explanations.

To understand what you are looking at when you see the picture of the heart shaped galaxy it is helpful to know that here on the Earth we are in a spiral galaxy called the Milky Way and there are millions and millions of galaxies in the Universe.

Georgia has calculated that this galaxy is about 600 million light years from Earth.

The heart shaped galaxy
The heart shaped galaxy is possibly formed by the collision of two ring galaxies

Ring galaxies like the heart shaped one normally consist of millions of stars grouped together in a big circle usually with a group of stars forming a cluster in the centre.

But working out exactly how they are created is very complicated as Georgia explains: "It's very difficult indeed but we get a lot of information from the telescope in terms of exactly how far away it is, exactly how big it is, exactly how bright it is so from that you can try and work out exactly how it might have been formed."

You can help take part in this work by joining the Galaxy Zoo website. It is the brain child of Georgia's supervisor; "The Sky at Night" presenter Dr Chris Lintott.

By helping to analyse data on the website from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, a robotic telescope in Mexico, you could perhaps find the next oddly shaped galaxy or work out how this one formed.



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