Dwarf galaxy is a small galaxy composed of about 1000 up to several billion stars, as compared to the Milky Way’s 200–400 billion stars. The Large Magellanic Cloud, which closely orbits the Milky Way and contains over 30 billion stars, is sometimes classified as a dwarf galaxy; others consider it a full-fledged galaxy. Dwarf galaxies’ formation and activity are thought to be heavily influenced by interactions with larger galaxies.
Astronomers identify numerous types of dwarf galaxies, based on their shape and composition.
- Elliptical galaxy: dwarf elliptical galaxy
- Dwarf spheroidal galaxy: Once a subtype of dwarf ellipticals, now regarded as a distinct type
- Irregular galaxy: dwarf irregular galaxy
- Spiral galaxy: dwarf spiral galaxy
- Magellanic type dwarfs
- Blue compact dwarf galaxies
- Ultra-compact dwarf galaxies
One theory states that most galaxies, including dwarf galaxies, form in association with dark matter, or from gas that contains metals. However, NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer space probe identified new dwarf galaxies forming out of gases with low metallicity. These galaxies were located in the Leo Ring, a cloud of hydrogen and helium around two massive galaxies in the constellation Leo.
Because of their small size, dwarf galaxies have been observed being pulled toward and ripped by neighbouring spiral galaxies, resulting in galaxy merger.
Blue compact dwarf galaxy (BCD galaxy)is a small galaxy which contains large clusters of young, hot, massive stars. These stars, the brightest of which are blue, cause the galaxy itself to appear blue in colour. Most BCD galaxies are also classified as dwarf irregular galaxies or as dwarf lenticular galaxies. Because they are composed of star clusters, BCD galaxies lack a uniform shape. They consume gas intensely, which causes their stars to become very violent when forming.
BCD galaxies cool in the process of forming new stars. The galaxies’ stars are all formed at different time periods, so the galaxies have time to cool and to build up matter to form new stars. As time passes, this star formation changes the shape of the galaxies.
Nearby examples include NGC 1705, NGC 2915, NGC 3353 and UGCA 281.
Ultra-compact dwarf galaxies (UCD) are a class of very compact galaxies with very high stellar densities, discovered in the 2000s. They are thought to be on the order of 200 light years across, containing about 100 million stars.
It is theorised that these are the cores of nucleated dwarf elliptical galaxies that have been stripped of gas and outlying stars by tidal interactions, travelling through the hearts of rich clusters. UCDs have been found in the Virgo Cluster, Fornax Cluster, Abell 1689, and the Coma Cluster, amongst others. In particular, an unprecedentedly large sample of ~ 100 UCDs has been found in the core region of the Virgo cluster The first ever relatively robust studies of the global properties of Virgo UCDs suggest that UCDs have distinct dynamical and structural properties from normal globular clusters. An extreme example of UCD is M60-UCD1, about 54 million light years away, which contains approximately 200 million solar masses within a 160 light year radius; its central region packs in stars about 25 times closer together than stars in Earth’s region in the Milky Way.