Astronomers Accidentally Discover A Hidden Galaxy Right Next Door

Olive Hawkins
February 3, 2019

The find was fortuitous.

The scientists that made this discovery are now calling the galaxy Bedin 1, after the lead discoverer, Luigi Bedin. This one is a lot closer, and it was discovered completely by accident.

While analyzing stars in cluster NGC 6752, astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope encountered a tiny and faint spherical dwarf galaxy 30 million light-years away which they have nicknamed Bedin 1. 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. 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. After a careful analysis of their brightnesses 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 millions of light-years more distant. (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. Bedin 1 may therefore be the most isolated small dwarf galaxy known. The lower image, depicting the complete cluster, is a ground-based observation from the Digitized Sky Survey 2.

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NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has been peering into the unknown and infinite universe for almost 30 years. The finding is reported in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society: Letters. The discovery of this isolated galaxy could "put constraints on models of how the galaxy we see today did form", said Bedin.

Bedin I was dated to around 13 billion years old; its oldest stars are no longer burning hydrogen-a tell-tale sign of its extreme age, explained Bedin. However, its remote location and the fact that it's not near any other galaxies has led researchers to label it "a living fossil from the early Universe". 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 scope's cosmic views were initially blurry - the result of a slight flaw in Hubble's primary mirror - but spacewalking astronauts fixed that problem in December 1993.

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