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(MSNBC)-A recent sky survey has turned up eight new members in our Local Group of galaxies, including a new class of ultra-faint "hobbit" galaxies and what might be the smallest galaxy ever discovered.
The Local Group is a collection of about 40 galaxies, of which the Milky Way and Andromeda are the dominant members. The rest of the galaxies are mostly small satellites known as “dwarf galaxies” that are gravitationally bound to these two galaxies. The Large and Small Magellanic Clouds are two of the Milky Way’s better known dwarf galaxies.
Seven of the new galaxies are gravitationally bound to the Milky Way, while the eighth appears to float freely in space, beyond our galaxy’s grasp.
“They seem to be much fainter than anyone suspected galaxies could be before,” said study team member Daniel Zucker of Cambridge University. “So rather than dwarf galaxies, we should perhaps call them ‘hobbit galaxies.’”
The dimness could be the result of stellar age, as seven of the new galaxies contain mostly old stars. Of these seven, two are located in the constellation Canes Venatici, one in Bootes, one in Leo, one in Coma Berenices, one in Ursa Major and one in Hercules.
The eighth and most recently spotted galaxy is in many ways the most interesting. Dubbed Leo T, it is located about 1.4 million light-years away from Earth, so far away that it floats freely in space, unperturbed by the Milky Way.
Unlike the other hobbit galaxies, Leo T includes both old and young stars. It also contains large amounts of neutral hydrogen gas — a prime ingredient of star formation — suggesting it is still an active stellar nursery.
Because of its great distance, Leo T is also the dimmest of the new hobbits. “This is basically the smallest, faintest star-forming galaxy known, by orders of magnitude,” Zucker said.