The Dutch school teacher, a volunteer in the Galaxy Zoo project that allows members of the public to take part in astronomy research online, discovered a mysterious and unique object some observers are calling a “cosmic ghost.”
van Arkel came across the image of a strange, gaseous object with a hole in the center while using the www.galaxyzoo.org website to classify images of galaxies.
When she posted about the image that quickly became known as “Hanny’s Voorwerp” ( Dutch for “object”) on the Galaxy Zoo forum, astronomers who run the site began to investigate and soon realized van Arkel might have found a new class of astronomical object.
“At first, we had no idea what it was. It could have been in our solar system, or at the edge of the universe,” said Schawinski, a member and co-founder of the Galaxy Zoo team.
Scientists working at telescopes around the world and with satellites in space were asked to take a look at the mysterious Voorwerp. “What we saw was really a mystery,” said Schawinski. “The Voorwerp didn’t contain any stars.” Rather, it was made entirely of gas so hot — about 10,000 Celsius — that the astronomers felt it had to be illuminated by something powerful. They will soon use the Hubble Space Telescope to get a closer look.