Published: Sun, February 03, 2019
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Hubble Accidentally Finds Entire Galaxy Lurking Behind a Cluster of Stars

Hubble Accidentally Finds Entire Galaxy Lurking Behind a Cluster of Stars

Only a fraction of the size of the Milky Way and incredibly faint, the so-called Bedin 1 system is considered a dwarf spheroidal galaxy-defined by their small size, low luminosity, and lack of dust and old stellar populations. Astronomers have often noted evidence of smaller galaxies being pulled apart or consumed by larger ones.

NASA's Hubble Telescope was focusing on the globular star cluster NGC 6752 (which is located a mere 13,000 light-years away) when it captured the surprise find. The team wants to study these stars to measure the age of the globular cluster, but they made this unexpected finding.

Our Milky Way galaxy has another neighbor.

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. Fantastic footage from NASA shows the camera zooming in on the "tiny" galaxy, dubbed "Bedin 1", surrounded by thousands of dazzling stars.

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The astronomers who discovered this new galaxy were originally doing a survey of a cluster known as NGC 6752. (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. The researchers suspect that Bedin-1 is the most isolated galaxy ever discovered. 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 called the elongated and small galaxy Bedin 1, which measures nearly 3,000 light years, only a fraction of the size of our galaxy.

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.

Although it's a common type of tiny galaxy, according to the study, Bedin 1 does have some special attributes. The upper right image shows the full field of view of the Hubble Space Telescope. 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.

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