Introducing Leo P

May 10, 2013


Meet Leo P, a new dwarf galaxy identified by astronomers using the WIYN 3.5m telescope at the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Southern Arizona (WIYN is owned and operated by the WIYN Consortium, which consists of University of Wisconsin, Indiana University, Yale University, and the National Optical Astronomy Observatory).

IU Bloomington astronomer Katherine Rhode worked on the discovery with colleagues including Riccardo Giovanelli and his team from Cornell University, who first spotted the galaxy as a cloud of gas at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. The image above is a color composite of Leo P obtained with the WIYN 3.5 m telescope. The lower (southern) portion of Leo P is the clump of blue stars, which indicate very recent star formation.

Those bright blue stars were very important, according to Rhode, an assistant professor of astronomy at IU Bloomington, who led the optical observations at WIYN that confirmed existence of the galaxy. “If there hadn’t been some of these bright young blue stars—and they only have lifetimes in the millions of years, not the billions of years—it would have been much harder to pick up this thing,” she said in a Scientific American article on the discovery.

Leo P is “nearby” in scientific terms. As Scientific American puts it, “At a distance of some five million or six million light-years from the Milky Way, Leo P is not quite a next-door neighbor, but on the vast scales of the universe it counts as a neighbor nonetheless.”

The discovery was detailed in a study for The Astronomical Journal. Read the full paper with Rhode as lead author here.

The Scientific American article may be found here.





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