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Most cluttered galaxy in the universe found


The center of our Milky Way Galaxy is hidden from the prying eyes of optical telescopes by clouds of obscuring dust and gas. But, in this stunning vista, the Spitzer Space Telescope's infrared cameras penetrate much of the dust, revealing the stars of the crowded galactic center region.



Even galaxies get messy, apparently.

Astronomers believe they have found the densest, most jam-packed galaxy yet discovered.

Using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra X-ray Observatory, Australian and American astronomers found a dwarf galaxy — the charmingly named M60-UCD1 — that is packed with stars and said to be about 10 billion years old.

It's about 54 million light years from Earth and has clearly not watched its weight — it is about 200 million times heavier than our sun.

"The abundance of heavy elements in this galaxy makes it a fertile environment for planets and, potentially, life to form," said Anil Seth of the University of Utah, co-author of a paper on the research.

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The galaxy is 15,000 times denser than our Milky Way galaxy. That means its stars are packed much closer together — they're about 25 times nearer each other than the ones around our sun, in fact, according to National Geographic's Star Struck blog.

"Traveling from one star to another would be a lot easier in M60-UCD1 than it is in our galaxy, but it would still take hundreds of years using present technology," said Jay Strader of Michigan State University, the paper's lead author.

It is unclear to the scientists if the galaxy was created that way or if the stars were torn away from another galaxy.

"We think nearly all of the stars have been pulled away from the exterior of what once was a much bigger galaxy," said study co-author Duncan Forbes of Swinburne University in Australia.

"This leaves behind just the very dense nucleus of the former galaxy, and an overly massive black hole."

The findings were published in the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters.