In the outer fringes of the area observed with Hubble's camera, a compact collection of stars was visible.
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.
The newly discovered cosmic neighbour, nicknamed Bedin 1 by the astronomers, is a modestly-sized, elongated galaxy, the study said.
Based on the properties of its stars, including their low-luminosity, astronomers were able to calculate that Bedin 1 is between 10 and 13 billion years old. In a celestial game of "Where's Waldo?", Hubble's sharp vision uncovered a never-before-seen dwarf galaxy located far behind the cluster's crowded stellar population. (For comparison, the Milky Way's famous spiral disk has a diameter of about 100,000 light-years.) Dwarf spheroidal galaxies are not uncommon; astronomers already knew of more than 20 that are satellites of the Milky Way. The researchers published their findings in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society: Letters.
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The discovery of Bedin 1 was a truly serendipitous find. Not only is it one of just a few dwarf spheroidals that have a well established distance but it is also extremely isolated.
So if Bedin 1 is gravitationally connected to the distant NGC 6744, the larger galaxy appears to have left its little sibling alone. This makes it possibly the most isolated small dwarf galaxy discovered to date.
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.
The Hubble Space Telescope, a joint project of NASA and the European Space Agency, launched to Earth orbit in April 1990 aboard the space shuttle Discovery. As telescopes on the ground and in space become more sophisticated, it seems highly likely that it's only a matter of time before more nearby cosmic fossils are dug up.