Hubble Fortuitously Discovers New Galaxy In Cosmic Neighborhood

Gwen Vasquez
February 3, 2019

The researchers were studying a cluster of stars in our own galaxy called NGC 6752.

Behind the bright stars of the cluster a denser collection of faint stars is visible - a previously unknown dwarf spheroidal galaxy.

The team were studying the temperature and brightness of stars along the outer fringes of our galaxy when they came across the small, old and dim part of space somewhere in the region of 30 million light-years from the Milky Way, making it the most isolated dwarf galaxy yet discovered. Measuring only 3,000 light-years wide, Bedin 1 is a fraction of the size of the Milky Way (our galaxy is at least 100,000 light-years wide).

Because of its 13-billion-year-old age, and its isolation - which resulted in hardly any interaction with other galaxies - the dwarf is the astronomical equivalent of a living fossil from the early universe. In the Local Group of Galaxies, scientists have spotted 36 dwarf spheroidal galaxies, and 22 of them are satellite galaxies of our Milky Way. Wonderful footage from NASA shows the camera zooming in on the "tiny" galaxy, dubbed "Bedin 1", surrounded by thousands of dazzling stars.

The researchers published their findings online today (Jan. 31) in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society: Letters. Bedin 1 may therefore be the most isolated small dwarf galaxy known.

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Although it's a common type of tiny galaxy, according to the study, Bedin 1 does have some special attributes.

So if Bedin 1 is gravitationally connected to the distant NGC 6744, the larger galaxy appears to have left its little sibling alone.

"Very few Hubble images allow such faint objects to be seen, and they cover only a small area of the sky", said the European Space Agency.

[1] While similar to dwarf elliptical galaxies in appearance and properties, dwarf spheroidal galaxies are in general approximately spherical in shape and have a lower luminosity. However, not all galaxies fit into this stereotype - some are a little more understated, hidden or just plain shy, which explains why the Hubble Space Telescope found an entire galaxy hanging out on our cosmic doorstep, a mere 30 million light-years away.

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