Hubble Fortuitously Discovers New Galaxy In Cosmic Neighborhood

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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.

Bedin 1 is located "only" about 30 million light-years away, which puts its 2300 times farther away than the cluster visible in the foreground of the image above.

An global team of astronomers recently used the telescope to study white dwarf stars in the NGC 6752. And when they looked at the images Hubble sent back, they noticed a small galaxy hiding behind the cluster's brighter stars.

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. Relative to other galaxies in the universe, NASA says that Bedin 1 is essentially in our planet's own "cosmic backyard".

The medium-sized, elongated galaxy measures approximately 3,000 light years at its widest, barely 1/30th of the diameter of the Milky Way. The lunar sample was brought to Earth from the Moon by the Apollo 14 astronauts.

The researchers published their findings online today (Jan. 31) in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society: Letters. Granted, galaxies are anything but "small", but compared to our absolute unit of a galaxy, Bedin 1 is a featherweight. Not only is it tiny, but it is also incredibly faint. Not only is it one of just a few dwarf spheroidals that have a well established distance but it is also extremely isolated. The researchers suspect that Bedin-1 is the most isolated galaxy ever discovered.

Further observations led the astronomers to deduce that the galaxy is roughly 13 billion years old, making it roughly as old as the Milky Way.

Bedin 1 is so old and so distant that it has hardly interacted with any other galaxies meaning it's essentially "the astronomical equivalent of a living fossil from the early Universe", according to the Hubble team.

"Very few Hubble images allow such faint objects to be seen, and they cover only a small area of the sky", said the European Space Agency.

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