Friday, February 4, 2011

Astronomers search for 'Galaxy X'

The search for Planet X may be problematic, but astronomers believe there's a "Galaxy X" lurking on the other side of the Milky Way.

Based on an analysis of our home galaxy's distribution of cold atomic hydrogen gas, two astronomers at the University of California at Berkeley are predicting that a previously undetected dwarf galaxy, about 1 percent the mass of the total Milky Way, should lie about 300,000 light-years out from the center of the Milky Way ... in an area that's obscured by intervening gas and dust.

Such a galaxy hasn't been detected directly — yet — but postdoctoral fellow Sukanya Chakrabarti and Leo Blitz are betting that it's out there nevertheless.

"This is the first time in my profession that I'm really going out on a limb and making a very specific prediction," Chakrabarti told me.

This month, a request is being put in for observing time on the infrared-sensitive Spitzer Space Telescope, as part of its GLIMPSE survey. If the request is approved, Chakrabarti and Blitz should find out sometime this year whether their bet has paid off. The payoff could be big: If Galaxy X is found, its existence could explain a curious discrepancy in the current theoretical model for dark matter distribution in the universe.

And if the bet goes bad? "Even if we're wrong, we'll learn something significant, because it could be due to the shape of the dark matter halo," she said.

Chakrabarti discussed her research, which has been submitted to the Astrophysical Journal, at the American Astronomical Society's winter meeting in Seattle today.

Read the entire article:

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