The ultra-compact dwarf galaxy, M60-UCD1, is packed with an extraordinary number of stars and may be the most crowded galaxy near Earth, the U.S. space agency said Tuesday in a release.
M60-UCD1, estimated to be about 10 billion years old, is near the elliptical galaxy NGC 4649 and 54 million light years from Earth, NASA said. NGC 4649 is the most luminous known galaxy of its type and one of the most massive, weighing 200 million times more than the sun, based on observations with the W.M. Keck Observatory 10-meter telescope in Hawaii.
"Traveling from one star to another would be a lot easier in M60-UCD1 than it is in our galaxy, but it would still take hundreds of years using present technology," said Jay Strader of Michigan State University and lead author on the research, published in the latest The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
The 6.5-meter Multiple Mirror Telescope in Arizona was used to study the amount of elements heavier than hydrogen and helium in stars in the galaxy, NASA said, finding the values were similar to the sun.
"The abundance of heavy elements in this galaxy makes it a fertile environment for planets and, potentially, for life to form," said co-author Anil Seth of the University of Utah.
Astronomers said they want to determine whether M60-UCD1 was born as a jam-packed star cluster or became more compact as stars were ripped from it.
"We think nearly all of the stars have been pulled away from the exterior of what once was a much bigger galaxy," said co-author Duncan Forbes of Swinburne University in Australia.