The Dark Side of the Universe

Astronomers have discovered a mysterious invisible galaxy where no stars shine, they confirmed yesterday.
The object, labelled VIRGOHI 21, is a rotating cloud of gas and dust ten million times more massive than the sun.
It is the first galaxy found to be made up of so-called “dark matter” that scientists believe makes up much of the universe.
The galaxy lies 50million light-years away from Earth in the constellation of Virgo. It was found by an international team including UK astronomers from Cardiff University and Jodrell Bank, Cheshire, using a radio telescope at Westerbork in the Netherlands.
The telescope detected a whirpool of hydrogen. But the scientists say the gas makes up only one per cent of the galaxy – the rest is made up of dark matter.
The invisible galaxy’s presence is also revealed because it is tearing gas away from a normal bright galaxy of stars nearby called NGC 4254.
The science team announced their finding at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington yesterday.
Robin Scagell, of the UK’s Society for Popular Astronomy, told me: “The importance of this is that although we know must be an awful lot of dark matter around, it is hard to pin it down to any particular spot.
“So this galaxy could become the Rosetta Stone for astronomers that helps us to pick out the dark matter from the observable stuff.”
The image indicates the position of the galaxy from combined observations by Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, Cardiff University, the Isaac Newton Telescope on La Palma and Westerbork Synthesis Radio Telescope

© Paul Sutherland. Unauthorised reproduction forbidden.

Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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