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Per David Freeman
Astronomers using Hubble Space Telescope have just made an unexpected discovery: a group of stars believed to be part of our galaxy Milky Way actually belongs to an unidentified galaxy of 30 million light years away in an unusually isolated region of space.
The international team has been studying a group of stars known as the NGC 6752, which are about 13,000 light-years away at the edges of the Milky Way. But after analyzing the brightness and the temperature of the stars, scientists have realized they look at objects about 2,300 times more than they originally thought.
"This is a seemingly unintentional revelation," said Luigi "Rolly" Bedin, astronomer from the Astronomical Observatory in Padua, Italy, in an e-mail to NBC News MACH. Bedin is the team leader and author of the article describing the discovery, and was published on Thursday in the Monthly Notices magazine of the Royal Astronomical Society.
The newly-created galaxy, dubbed Bedin 1 in recognizing the science's unique role in its discovery, looks small and weak even under Hubble's powerful increase. And no wonder, that's 30 times less than the Milky Way and a thousand times duller.
Unlike the Milky Way, a kind of spiral galaxy, Bedin 1 is roughly spherical – what astronomers call dwarf ball galaxy. It is one of 36 such galaxies known to exist in the so-called Local Galaxy Group, which includes the Dairy Way and the neighboring Andromeda Galaxy.
It is believed that the galaxy is about 13 billion years old, making it a "living fossil from the early universe".
It is believed that the universe itself is about 13.8 billion years old.
"It's fun to find something interesting in your yard that you never knew existed," NBC News MACH told Jay Pasachoff, an astronomer from Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts, who was not involved in a new survey. "The Hubble Space Telescope Field, perhaps the one of the grain of rice held on the length of the hand, is so small that it is seldom than an additional object in it, but that's what happened this time."
Such discoveries may not be so rare in the near future. NASA is planning to launch its new broadband infrared telescope, or WFIRST, in the mid-2020s, and Bedin said in an e-mail message that the space telescope – whose field of vision will be 100 times larger than Hubble – "might find many more wonders. "
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