There’s no shortage of interesting things to see in our own galaxy, but astronomers love finding new galactic neighbors as well. Observing other galaxies can teach scientists a lot about how the massive structures form, live, and die.
Using images from the Hubble Space Telescope, researchers studying distant, dim stars accidentally stumbled upon something they hadn’t anticipated: An entirely undocumented galaxy sitting around 30 million light-years from Earth. News of the discovery was published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
The astronomers who discovered this new galaxy were originally doing a survey of a cluster known as NGC 6752. These faint stars were being studied so that scientists could better gauge how old the cluster was as a whole, but that’s when they noticed what appeared to be a galaxy that had yet to be documented.
“Our newly discovered cosmic neighbour, nicknamed Bedin 1 by the astronomers, is a modestly sized, elongated galaxy,” explains the official Hubble website. “It measures only around 3000 light-years at its greatest extent — a fraction of the size of the Milky Way. Not only is it tiny, but it is also incredibly faint. These properties led astronomers to classify it as a dwarf spheroidal galaxy.”
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. 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.”
The tiny galaxy is truly off on its own, and is roughly two million light years from the nearest large galaxy, so it’s something of a time capsule that dates back billions and billions of years. It’s too far away to study in any great detail with modern technology, but its accidental discovery is definitely one for the books.