The galaxy GAMA202627 (circled in red) also has orbiting galaxies much like our very own Milky Way. (Photo : Dr. Aaron Robotham, ICRAR/St Andrews using GAMA data.)
Despite our lack of evidence proving otherwise, we are probably not alone in this universe. Planets similar to Earth are hard enough to spot, so imagine how hard it is to find a galaxy that is similar to ours. Now, astronomers have found two galaxies that they consider 'exact matches' to our very own Milky Way.
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The Milky Way is a fairly typical spiral galaxy, but it's our galaxy's surroundings that are so unique. We have the Magellanic Clouds, two dwarf galaxies that orbit our Milky Way Galaxy. Despite being dwarf galaxies, the Magellanic Clouds are still bigger than most other galaxy-orbiting galaxies, and that's what makes them so unique. In fact, the Large Magellanic Cloud is considered a full-fledged galaxy by some, containing over 30 billion stars.
"We've never found another galaxy system like the Milky Way before, which is not surprising considering how hard they are to spot! It's only recently become possible to do the type of analysis that lets us find similar groups," says lead author of the paper and astronomer Dr. Aaron Robotham.
After comparing hundreds of thousands of galaxies, the team narrowed down the list to just 14 galaxies.
"We found about 3% of galaxies similar to the Milky Way have companion galaxies like the Magellanic Clouds, which is very rare indeed. In total we found 14 galaxy systems that are similar to ours, with two of those being an almost exact match," says Dr. Robotham.
"The galaxy we live in is perfectly typical, but the nearby Magellanic Clouds are a rare, and possibly short-lived, occurrence. We should enjoy them whilst we can, they'll only be around for a few billion more years," he added.
The team of researchers presented their findings at the International Astronomical Union General Assembly in Beijing on August 23.
See the Large Magellanic Cloud as viewed from the Spitzer Space Telescope: