Hubble just spotted a never-before-seen galaxy hiding in plain sight


It measures only around 3000 light-years at its greatest extent - a fraction of the size of the Milky Way.

The Hubble discovery was a delightful accident.

So, what do we know about our new galactic neighbor? Incredible footage from NASA shows the camera zooming in on the "tiny" galaxy, dubbed "Bedin 1", surrounded by thousands of dazzling stars. An worldwide team of astronomers was using Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys instrument to study white dwarfs - superdense stellar corpses - in the globular cluster NGC 6752, which is part of the Milky Way. 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. They discovered a dwarf galaxy in our cosmic backyard, only 30 million light-years away.

"Had the galaxy been 10 times further away, it would have been much harder to detect", said Bedin.

Accidentally stumbling across a nearby galaxy gives astronomers a hint that there may be many more galaxies of this type out there, just waiting to be found behind the nearest star cluster. "It would have been outside our Local Group".

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And then there's Bedin 1's age. The lower image depicts the complete cluster, the upper right image shows the full field of view of the area obstructing the dwarf galaxy, and the upper left image zooms in even further to show Bedin 1.

Almost all the stars astronomers measured in Bedin 1 are small and old, implying the dwarf galaxy made all its stars in a single burst of activity some 10 billion years ago. NASA likens it to the "astronomical equivalent of a living fossil from the early universe". Remarkably, it formed during the first hundreds of millions of years after the Big Bang.

Not only is this dwarf galaxy old, it's also remarkably isolated and undisturbed.

"This makes it possible the most isolated small dwarf galaxy discovered to date". Bedin I has been floating through the cosmos with impunity for billions of years, making it an excellent target for future investigations.

"The discovery of Bedin 1 was a truly serendipitous find", the ESA said. Astronomers have often noted evidence of smaller galaxies being pulled apart or consumed by larger ones. No harm in giving catchy names to cool things, and by outcome, honouring the researchers involved.