Like something that lives in Australia and...


September 28, 1994

IT SOUNDS like something that lives in Australia and carries its offspring about in unorthodox fashion. But astronomers report that a Dwingeloo is actually a distant cosmic cousin to our own Milky Way galaxy, a previously undiscovered spiral disc of a billion or so stars lurking just out of sight behind the clouds of dust and gas that swirl around our island universe.

Dubbed Dwingeloo 1, the new galaxy was detected last month with the large radio telescope in Dwingeloo, The Netherlands, by a team of Dutch, British and American astronomers. Despite its relative proximity -- it appears to be some 10 million light years away, or about five times the distance to the famous Andromeda Galaxy -- Dwingeloo had never been seen before because it is obscured by clouds of dust that lie athwart our line of sight toward the center of our galaxy.

But while the dust clouds block our view in visible light, they are not opaque to radio emissions. The 25-meter radio telescope in Dwingeloo first picked up the tell-tale signals of a large, rotating spiral galaxy on Aug. 4, and the discovery was quickly confirmed by observers at The Netherlands' Westerbork Synthesis Radio Telescope and at the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii.

Our newfound neighbor appears to be about a quarter as massive as the Milky Way and lie just beyond the nearby galaxies that form the Local Group to which we belong.

Some astronomers even speculate Dwingeloo might have been ejected from the Local Group around 4 billion years ago, or about the time our solar system formed. In any case, it's close enough so that its gravity influences ours.

Could that be why we've been feeling so lightheaded lately?

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