Astronomers at the University of Cambridge have spotted a new galaxy that has never been seen before, just outside the Milky Way. The dwarf galaxy is the fourth largest known to be orbiting our own and may actually be drifting into it. Researchers discovered the new galaxy by unusual means, and believe this is the first time the dwarf galaxy has ventured near a giant galaxy like the Milky Way, because it has a round shape not previously influenced by the gravitational pull of another galaxy.

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Gabriel Torrealba at the University of Cambridge and his colleagues discovered the dwarf galaxy about 380,000 light years away. It belongs to the constellation Crater, and it’s been named Crater 2. The far off galaxy can’t be seen by human eyes, but astronomers learned of its existence by using a computer to sift through data from images taken by a Chilean telescope.

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Researchers say the newly discovered dwarf galaxy wasn’t identified earlier because its stars are spread out, giving it a ghostly appearance. Now that it’s been spotted, astronomers are eager to learn more about its characteristics. Crater 2 is accompanied by four other newly discovered objects, including the Crater globular star cluster and three other dwarf galaxies in Leo. It’s entirely possible, according to Torrealba, that these could all be gradually falling into the Milky Way, thanks to gravitational pull.

The findings were published by Cornell University.

Via New Scientist

Images via NASA