An international team of researchers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and several other observatories have, for the first time, uncovered a galaxy in our cosmic neighbourhood that is missing most — if not all — of its dark matter. This discovery of the galaxy NGC 1052-DF2 challenges currently-accepted theories of and galaxy formation and provides new insights into the nature of dark matter. The results are published in Nature.

Astronomers using Hubble and several ground-based observatories have found a unique astronomical object: a galaxy that appears to contain almost no dark matter. Hubble helped to accurately confirm the distance of NGC 1052-DF2 to be 65 million light-years and determined its size and brightness. Based on these data the team discovered that NGC 1052-DF2 larger than the Milky Way, but contains about 250 times fewer stars, leading it to be classified as an ultra diffuse galaxy.

“I spent an hour just staring at this image,” lead researcher Pieter van Dokkum of Yale University says as he recalls first seeing the Hubble image of NGC 1052-DF2. “This thing is astonishing: a gigantic blob so sparse that you see the galaxies behind it. It is literally a see-through galaxy.”

Further measurements of the dynamical properties of ten globular clusters orbiting the galaxy allowed the team to infer an independent value of the galaxies mass. This mass is comparable to the mass of the stars in the galaxy, leading to the conclusion that NGC 1052-DF2 contains at least 400 times less dark matter than astronomers predict for a galaxy of its mass, and possibly none at all . This discovery is unpredicted by current theories on the distribution of dark matter and its influence on galaxy formation.

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