NASA says Hubble accidentally discovered a tiny ‘living fossil’ galaxy

Cristina Cross
February 3, 2019

The Hubble Space Telescope was launched into orbit in 1990, where it has remained in the decades since.

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

After a careful analysis of their brightness and temperatures, the astronomers concluded that these stars did not belong to the cluster which is part of the Milky Way, but rather they are more distant. 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. For starters, it's small.

But Bedin 1 stands out from the crowd.

The medium-sized, elongated galaxy measures approximately 3,000 light years at its widest, barely 1/30th of the diameter of the Milky Way. They found a dwarf galaxy in our cosmic backyard which is around 30 million light-years away, The finding is reported in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society: Letters.

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Based on the properties of its stars, astronomers believe the galaxy is about 13 billion years old-nearly as ancient as the Universe itself.

The Hubble Team said: "While dwarf spheroidal galaxies are not uncommon, Bedin 1 has some notable features". For starters, it's a loner.

According to an academic paper published by Bedin and astronomers from Italy, the UK, Germany and the United States, the newly discovered galaxy consists mostly of red giants, and is located some 28.38 million light years from Earth, and at least 2.12 million light years from its neighbour, NGC 6744.

"Most of these galaxies were relatively small and faint, with masses similar to those of the satellite galaxies surrounding the Milky Way", NASA said. 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. This cluster lies around 13,000 light-years away, and scientists were studying the stars with Hubble to find out how old they are, and in turn, the age of the entire cluster.

An upcoming NASA telescope, WFIRST, could help find many of those hypothetical hiding galaxies.

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