The very first documented stargazing session dates back to 1000 BCE Mesopotamia, long before the inception of NASA and other space agencies. Around three thousand years have passed since then – and in that time, we’ve learned far more than ancient man could’ve ever imagined. We not only have a firm grasp on our own planet but those surrounding us as well. We know the ins and outs of today’s Earth and have a decent idea of what the little blue planet looked like at birth.
At this point, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope spotting a tiny galaxy 20 million light-years away isn’t a mind-blowing discovery. It’s par for the course in modern space exploration. But that doesn’t make it any less fascinating. Scientists affectionately dubbed the dwarf galaxy “Peekaboo,” as Hubble had to win a game of hide-and-seek to find it.
Until recently, the galaxy has been hiding behind a bright star. Thankfully, that star shifted, giving NASA a clear view of the odd cluster of stars and space dust. To their surprise, though Peekaboo is relatively close to the Milky Way as space objects go, the miniature galaxy couldn’t be more different from our own.
Unlike its “modern” relatives, Peekaboo has the characteristics of a primordial galaxy. This means it’s “extremely metal-poor” and made of hydrogen and helium rather than heavier life-giving elements like carbon and oxygen. So rather than sharing similarities with galaxies such as our own, it more closely resembles those formed not long after the big bang.
“Uncovering the Peekaboo Galaxy is like discovering a direct window into the past, allowing us to study its extreme environment and stars at a level of detail that is inaccessible in the distant, early universe,” Gagandeep Anand, co-author of a study on the galaxy, said in a statement.
NASA Hopes to Learn More About the Tiny Peekaboo Galaxy
Peekaboo was first spotted by NASA over 20 years ago. At that time, however, they assumed it to be a region of cold hydrogen and nothing more. Later observations, however, suggested that there was a tiny galaxy hiding behind the blinding light of star TYV 7215-199-1. Eventually, Hubble successfully found 60 stars twinkling in the cloud of gas and almost all of them are a few billion years old or younger.
“At first we did not realize how special this little galaxy is,” added study co-author Bärbel Koribalski, an astronomer at Australia’s national science agency CSIRO. “Now with combined data from the Hubble Space Telescope, the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), and others, we know that the Peekaboo Galaxy is one of the most metal-poor galaxies ever detected.”
Though NASA’s Hubble telescope has allowed scientists to learn far more about the ancient galaxy, they hope to continue studying Peekaboo in the years to come. Using the ultra-powerful James Webb Space Telescope, they can learn even more about the stars within it and their composition.
“Due to Peekaboo’s proximity to us, we can conduct detailed observations, opening up possibilities of seeing an environment resembling the early universe in unprecedented detail,” Anand said.