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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
Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a contributing writer for Space.com since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she tackles topics like spaceflight, diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Her latest book, NASA Leadership Moments, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.