Trick of the light throws up rarely seen dwarf

Mar 16, 2007

A galaxy long considered to be a giant has turned out to be an optical illusion, with new observations by an astronomer from The Australian National University revealing that the star group is a dwarf.

The galaxy, known as NGC 5011C, was thought to be the gigantic next door neighbour of the big, bright NGC 5011B stellar system, located 140 million light years away from Earth.

But a new analysis to be published in the Astronomical Journal by Dr Helmut Jerjen, from the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, shows that NGC 5011C is a much smaller, dwarf galaxy about 12 million light years away from Earth, in the vicinity of our own Milky Way.

According to Dr Jerjen, the bright light being given off by NGC 5011B had confused the observations of the newly-discovered dwarf, which led to earlier conclusions that the small collection of stars was actually a giant.

“But the characteristics of NGC 5011C were so much like those of a dwarf galaxy when I observed the pair at Siding Spring Observatory that I needed to investigate further,” Dr Jerjen said.

Dwarf galaxies are the building blocks of giant galaxies like our Milky Way, but they are difficult to detect because they have 1000 times fewer stars and predominately contain dark matter. They give off very little light, making them easy to “see right through,” Dr Jerjen said. Cold Dark Matter theory tells us that most of the Universe is filled with such optically elusive dwarf galaxies.

“When you find one it’s like finding a little jewel,” Dr Jerjen said. “You want to examine it from every angle.”

To confirm his suspicion about NGC 5011C, Dr Jerjen contacted his colleague at the European Southern Observatory, Dr Ivo Saviane, to undertake a Redshift measurement of both galaxies. This test measures the speed at which objects are moving away from Earth.

“The faster the galaxy moves, the further away it is,” Dr Jerjen explains. “What we found with this pair was that the two galaxies actually have very different redshifts, with NGC 5011C moving away from us five times slower than 5011B. It’s rare to find a dwarf galaxy as close as this one.

“This finding offers a new opportunity to study the intricacies of a dwarf galaxy, which provides us with more detail about how galaxies form in the Universe and much to tell about the properties and role of dark matter,” Dr Jerjen said.

Source: Australian National University

Explore further: Can astronomy explain the biblical Star of Bethlehem?

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

The giant that turned out to be a dwarf

Mar 07, 2007

New data obtained on the apparent celestial couple, NGC 5011 B and C, taken with the 3.6-m ESO telescope, reveal that the two galaxies are not at the same distance, as was believed for the past 23 years. The observations ...

Recommended for you

Can astronomy explain the biblical Star of Bethlehem?

Dec 24, 2014

Bright stars top Christmas trees in Christian homes around much of the world. The faithful sing about the Star of Wonder that guided the wise men to a manger in the little town of Bethlehem, where Jesus was ...

Hubbles spies the beautiful galaxy IC 335

Dec 24, 2014

This new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image shows the galaxy IC 335 in front of a backdrop of distant galaxies. IC 335 is part of a galaxy group containing three other galaxies, and located in the Fornax ...

Image: Multicoloured view of supernova remnant

Dec 22, 2014

Most celestial events unfold over thousands of years or more, making it impossible to follow their evolution on human timescales. Supernovas are notable exceptions, the powerful stellar explosions that make ...

Ultra-luminous X-ray sources in starburst galaxies

Dec 22, 2014

Ultra-luminous X-ray sources (ULXs) are point sources in the sky that are so bright in X-rays that each emits more radiation than a million suns emit at all wavelengths. ULXs are rare. Most galaxies (including ...

When a bright light fades

Dec 22, 2014

Astronomer Charles Telesco is primarily interested in the creation of planets and stars. So, when the University of Florida's giant telescope was pointed at a star undergoing a magnificent and explosive death, ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.