Our galaxy — the Milky Way — is part of a larger group of galaxies, called the Local Group. And astronomers have provided a look at one of our neighbours in stunning detail.
The Local Group is comprised of about 50 galaxies. This particular galaxy, IC 1613, is about 2.3 million light-years away from us. It doesn’t look like the type of galaxy with which you’re most familiar. Instead of spiral arms, it’s a looser collection of stars, making up what astronomers refer to as an irregular dwarf galaxy.
Astronomers at the European Southern Observatory in Chile used the Very Large Telescope’s (VLT) Survey Telescope to image IC 1613 in great detail. They’re able to do this because, unlike many galaxies, there is very little dust blocking out the stars both within the Milky Way and the galaxy itself.
This image is absolutely amazing. You’ll definitely want to see this in hi-res, so click here for a zoomable image. Zoom in close enough and you’ll spot other galaxies lying beyond IC 1613.
The distance to IC 1613 has been calculated with high precision, thanks in part to the fact that within the galaxy lie two very special types of star: Cepheid variables and RR Lyrae variables. These stars give off rhythmic pulses.