Hubble Space Telescope studies peculiar 'ultra-diffuse galaxy' (photo)

GAMA 526784 is a diffuse galaxy, imaged here by the Hubble Space Telescope.
GAMA 526784 is a diffuse galaxy, imaged here by the Hubble Space Telescope. (Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, R. van der Burg Acknowledgement: L. Shatz)

A 'wispy' galaxy 4 billion light-years away from us features in a glorious new photo from the Hubble Space Telescope.

Called GAMA 526784, the galaxy represents one of a set of "ultra-diffuse" galaxies that are puzzling astronomers. These galaxies are ghostly star collections with low luminosity, or inherent brightness. Scientists believe "ultra-diffuse" galaxies are so dim because they don't contain the gas needed to fuel starbirth. But other questions are harder to answer.

One mystery concerning this galaxy type is the strangely high (or low) amount of dark matter, or matter in the universe made up of material scientists have never seen, officials with the European Space Agency, which is a partner on the Hubble mission, said in a statement. Scientists don't yet understand the reason for the discrepancy.

Related: The best Hubble Space Telescope images of all time!

Ultra-diffuse galaxies also have an unusual number of bright globular clusters, or dense groups of old stars, ESA added. This phenomenon is "not observed in other types of galaxies," the agency said, but did not elaborate on the implications.

"This image comes from a set of Hubble observations designed to shed light on the properties of ultra-diffuse galaxies," ESA said of the new work. 

"Hubble's keen vision allowed astronomers to study GAMA 526784 in high resolution at ultraviolet wavelengths, helping to gauge the sizes and ages of the compact star-forming regions studding the galaxy."

The image was acquired using Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys, which has been in operation since 2002 after astronauts installed it during a Hubble space shuttle servicing mission. 

Hubble's work on galactic evolution will underlie the fresh perspective provided by the James Webb Space Telescope, which launched in December to observe the early universe in infrared (heat-seeking) wavelengths. Webb is mid-commissioning and should do its first science observations around June.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: