Scientists Discover Huge, "Fluffy" Galaxy Orbiting the Milky Way

Monday, 18 April 2016 - 2:45PM
Astronomy
Monday, 18 April 2016 - 2:45PM
Scientists Discover Huge, "Fluffy" Galaxy Orbiting the Milky Way
We have a gigantic new neighbor. Researchers have just discovered a huge satellite galaxy orbiting our own Milky Way, one that's so spread-out, it was nearly impossible to detect.

The new study from the University of Cambridge, published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, details the discovery of Crater 2, the fourth-largest satellite galaxy surrounding the Milky Way. It's approximately 400,000 light years away, and its stars are so diffuse, it is much dimmer than most objects of its size, and was hidden by bright galaxies around it. 

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"This is indeed a very rare discovery," lead researcher Vasily Belokurov told The Huffington Post. "A galaxy like Crater 2 is a sort of invisible object."
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The Milky Way has no less than 50 known galactic objects circling it including Crater 2, but since Crater 2 went so long without detection, there's a chance that it could herald the discovery of other extremely dark nearby galaxies. 

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"We have found many similar objects in the last 10 years, but never such a large beast," said Belokurov. "It is orders of magnitude less luminous compared to most objects of similar size. It is extremely diffuse. We believe it was born that fluffy. But why, we do not yet know."
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While the discovery of this object is exciting in itself, Crater 2 could also lead to further insight into other astrophysical phenomena, such as dark matter. Crater 2 is a dwarf galaxy, which are typically rife with dark matter, so by studying this object, we could potentially learn more about the elusive substance that makes up approximately five-sixths of the matter in the universe.

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"These galaxies are intense concentrations of dark matter," Dr. Evan Kirby, assistant professor at Caltech Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics, who was not involved in the study, told HuffPost. "If there's a place in the universe where we can look to learn about dark matter, it's dwarf galaxies. How is it distributed? What is it made of? Future observations, especially spectroscopy, will help answer those questions."
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