Discovery of 'living fossil' galaxy could unlock secrets about early universe

This image taken with Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys, shows a part the globular cluster NGC 6752. Behind the bright stars of the cluster a denser collection of faint stars is visible- the previously unknown dwarf spheroidal galaxy Bedin 1

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.

While searching the globular cluster NGC 6752, an worldwide team of scientists discovered a compact collection of stars millions of light years away.

Our newly discovered cosmic neighbour, nicknamed Bedin 1 by the astronomers, is a modestly sized, elongated galaxy. Needless to say, Bedin 1 is also quite faint, which led the astronomers to classify it as a dwarf spheroidal galaxy.

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Nestled behind the cluster's crowded star population, a dwarf galaxy was spotted for the first time, NASA said.

The Hubble Space Telescope has discovered thousands of galaxies throughout its lifetime, but many of those galaxies are billions of light-years away, in the most distant parts of our visible universe.

It's estimated to be roughly 13 billion years old based on the properties of its stars, meaning it is nearly as old as the universe itself. And when they looked at the images Hubble sent back, they noticed a small galaxy hiding behind the cluster's brighter stars.

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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.

But Bedin 1 stands out from the crowd. Not only is it one of just a few dwarf spheroidals that have a well established distance but it is also extremely isolated. This makes it possibly the most isolated small dwarf galaxy discovered to date. The galaxy's isolation means it rarely interacted with other galaxies, making it the equivalent of an early universe "living fossil", the space agency explains. Very few Hubble images allow such faint objects to be seen, and they cover only a small area of the sky. And all this activity can often mean complex histories of star formation, as old stars get ripped away and gas - the fuel of starbirth - gets pushed around, sparking new generations of stars.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of worldwide cooperation between ESA and NASA.

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