‘Living fossil from the early universe’: Hubble spots new galactic neighbor

04 February, 2019, 17:11 | Author: Emilio Conner

The discovery was made by an worldwide team of astronomers who had been utilizing the Hubble to observe some of the oldest and faintest white dwarf stars within the globular cluster NGC 6752.

The collection of stars at the edge of the area was analyzed and deemed that they were not part of the cluster contained in the Milky Way, but a small galaxy which is nearly 30 million light-years away. And after carefully measuring the brightness and temperature of the background stars, they realized they had found something special - an entire galaxy that was hidden by the glare of NGC 6752.

The newly discovered cosmic neighbour, nicknamed Bedin 1 by the astronomers, is a modestly sized, elongated galaxy, the study said. In contradistinction to the Milky Way, which is a kind of spiral star system, Bedin 1 is roughly spherical - what astronomers call a dwarf spheroidal star system.

Dwarf spheroidal galaxies all have small sizes, low-luminosities and lack dust and old stars.

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In the 1990s, the famous Hubble Deep Field image led NASA to believe there were about 200 billion galaxies in the universe. Granted, galaxies are anything but "small", but compared to our absolute unit of a galaxy, Bedin 1 is a featherweight. The researchers published their findings in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society: Letters. Within the Local Group of Galaxies, there are about 36 of the dwarf spheroidal type, and among them, 22 are satellite galaxies of the Milky Way.

From the properties of its stars, astronomers were able to infer that the galaxy is around 13 billion years old - almost as old as the Universe itself. There's a chance this small swirl of stars may be connected to a larger nearby galaxy, but the two are far apart and it's not clear they have ever interacted. Not only is it one of just a few dwarf spheroidals that have a well established distance but it is also extremely isolated.

According to NASA, the Bedin 1 galaxy is both ancient and isolated, spanning approximately 3,000 light-years and clocking in around a thousand times dimmer than the Milky Way. NASA has shared a stunning image of the dwarf galaxy that was captured by Hubble. NASA likens it to the "astronomical equivalent of a living fossil from the early universe".

The Hubble Space Telescope is a joint project between NASA and ESA.

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