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Invisible Galaxy Of Dark Matter Discovered

In 2001, a group of astronomers led by Neil Trentham of the University of Cambridge predicted the existence of dark galaxies - vast collections of dark matter. Dark galaxies are thought to form when the density of matter in a galaxy is too low to create the conditions for star formation.

Since that time, an international team from the UK, France, Italy and Australia have been searching for dark galaxies with radio telescopes.

Objects thought to be dark galaxies have since turned out to contain stars when studied with high-powered optical telescopes. Others have been found to be the remnants of two galaxies colliding. However, when the scientists studied the area in question using the Isaac Newton Telescope in La Palma, they found no visible trace of any stars, and no nearby galaxies that would suggest a collision.

The astronomers first took observations of the dark object back in 2000 and it has taken almost five years to rule out all the other possible explanations. VIRGOHI21 appears to be the first dark galaxy ever detected.


(The ellipse shows were the dark galaxy was found)

Dr Robert Minchin from Cardiff University is one of the UK astronomers who discovered the mysterious galaxy. He explains:

"From the speed it is spinning, we realised that VIRGOHI21 was a thousand times more massive than could be accounted for by the observed hydrogen atoms alone. If it were an ordinary galaxy, then it should be quite bright and would be visible with a good amateur telescope."

In 1929, science fiction author Edmond Hamilton wrote Outside the Universe. In this tale, a equally diverse interstellar team from Earth (leader Dur Nal), Antares (represented by metal-bodied Korus Kan) and Spica (in the person of lobster-man Jhul Din) are on patrol duty at the edge of our galaxy when they see a swarm of hostile spaceships entering from intergalactic space. *Spoiler Alert!* It turns out that the ships are piloted by serpent-men from a dying, invisible galaxy. They had first tried to take over the Andromeda galaxy, but were defeated and forced to move on.

Read more about the discovery at First Invisible Galaxy Discovered in Cosmology Breakthrough and Seeing the invisible - first dark galaxy discovered. Special thanks to Winchell Chung for the tip on this story.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 2/26/2005)

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