This stunning new image from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) reveals the closest galaxy to our Milky Way in exquisite detail.
Called IC 1613, it is more accurately a dwarf galaxy,owing to its relatively minute size. Also known as Caldwell 51, this galaxy measures roughly 10,000 light-years across, compared to 100,000 light-years for the Milky Way. It is located about 2.3 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Cetus.
This latest image reveals just how clean the galaxy is, with very little cosmic dust, meaning its innards can be studied in great detail. It was taken by the OmegaCAM camera on the ESOs Very Large Telescope (VLT) Survey Telescope in Chile, and also reveals a cloud of bright pink gas within the galaxy.
Discovered in 1906 by German astronomer Max Wolf, we now know that IC 1613 is part of our Local Group,a neighborhood of more than 50 galaxies. And we know IC 1613s distance from us very precisely, thanks to its cleanliness. This allows us to see distance marker stars, Cepheid variables and RR Lyrae variables, which flash with a regular beat that lets us calculate their distance.
In fact, IC 1613 helped astronomers refine the technique of using these stars to measure distances in the universe, something first proposed by the underappreciated astronomer Henrietta Swan Levitt in the early 20th Century.