Hubble just spotted a never-before-seen galaxy hiding in plain sight

Spectacular star system that could cause cosmic fireworks found

The researchers were studying a cluster of stars in our own galaxy called NGC 6752. Using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, the astronomers began to notice that some stars along the outer fringes of the globular cluster were out of place, leading to the accidental discovery. Bedin-1 is a small dwarf galaxy not unlike some of the other small dwarf galaxies that orbit the Milky Way, with one big exception: It's really far away from pretty much everything else. Awesome footage from NASA shows the camera zooming in on the "tiny" galaxy, dubbed "Bedin 1", surrounded by thousands of dazzling stars. Dwarf spheroidals are galaxies that are in retirement; the star formation party is over, and the stars that they do have are old and dim.

The team published their discovery January 31, in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society: Letters. By comparison, the Milky Way's length is 105,000 light-years. Not only is it tiny, but it is also incredibly faint. 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.

One moment you're investigating a globular cluster, and the next you're unexpectedly writing a research paper about something else entirely, namely the discovery of previously unknown dwarf spheroidal galaxy.

Not only is this dwarf galaxy old, it's also remarkably isolated and undisturbed.

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Almost all the stars astronomers measured in Bedin 1 are small and old, implying the dwarf galaxy made all its stars in a single burst of activity some 10 billion years ago. The galaxy's isolation means it rarely interacted with other galaxies, making it the equivalent of an early universe "living fossil", the space agency explains. Second, Bedin 1 shows little sign of past interactions with any galactic neighbors.

[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. As telescopes on the ground and in space become more sophisticated, it seems highly likely that it's only a matter of time before more nearby cosmic fossils are dug up.

The results were presented in the letter The HST Large Programme on NGC 6752.


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