February 21, 2019

Hubble fortuitously discovers a new galaxy in the cosmic neighbourhood

03 February 2019, 03:28 | Dale Webster

Hubble fortuitously discovers a new galaxy in the cosmic neighbourhood

Zooming in on NGC 6752 and Bedin 1

The Hubble Space Telescope has just captured a new dwarf galaxy which is 30 million light-years away from the Milky Way.

Though it might be hard to imagine, astronomers stumbled on this galaxy by accident.

Using images from the Hubble Space Telescope, researchers studying distant, dim stars accidentally stumbled upon something they hadn't anticipated: An entirely undocumented galaxy sitting around 30 million light-years from Earth.

Bedin 1 appears on the lower end of this Hubble image of globular cluster NGC 6752. Because regular galaxies like the Milky Way are hundreds or even thousands of times larger, these dwarf galaxies are at the gravitational mercy of their larger brethren.

Initially believing the Bedin 1 group of stars was part of a separate cluster belonging to the Milky Way, astronomers soon realised that it was in fact a separate galaxy millions more light years away than previously thought.

So with Bedin 1 found, it's one down, 1,999,999,999,999 to go. (For comparison, the Milky Way's famous spiral disk has a diameter of about 100,000 light-years.) Dwarf spheroidal galaxies are not uncommon; astronomers already knew of more than 20 that are satellites of the Milky Way.

Credit ESA  Hubble NASA Bedin et al. Digitized Sky Survey 2
Credit ESA Hubble NASA Bedin et al. Digitized Sky Survey 2

"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", NASA said in a statement.

The researchers that discovered Bedin-1 were really lucky to have stumbled on it by accident, because it's so small and faint it would probably never have been discovered on objective with current instruments.

For example, the dwarf is about 2 million light-years away from the closest big galaxy that could feasibly be its host (which is called NCG 6744), the researchers said. This makes it possibly the most isolated small dwarf galaxy discovered to date. Its stars are also old, like really old, revealing that the galaxy is as ancient as the universe itself - approximately 13 billion years old.

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

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has been peering into the unknown and infinite universe for almost 30 years.

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