The IC 342, or the “Hidden Galaxy,” is a galaxy that is located near the Milky Way’s galactic disk; a cloudy, dusty region that has so far been exceedingly difficult for scientists to see. While it is (cosmically) relatively close to the Milky Way — 10 million light-years away from us — the nature of this galaxy’s location has presented researchers with many challenges. It is true that IC 342 is gloriously bright and fairly large. But between us and this galaxy are stars, a variety of gases, and billowing clouds of cosmic dust. And so, even though researchers are using technologies as advanced as the Hubble Space Telescope, it continues to be “hidden” and difficult to image and, therefore, study.
It might be surprising to know that, despite the many advancements in space technology, there are still many cosmic objects that remain relatively mysterious to us because, simply, we cannot see them. One example happened just last year, as researchers finally were able to observe a particularly elusive brown dwarf. Seen as a link between planets and stars, it is essential that we understand these cosmic objects as best we can.
It was a long and arduous journey for scientists to capture a picture of Pluto that provided substantial detail or information. The Hubble Space Telescope, while a vital resource, simply was not up to the task in the same way that the New Horizons spacecraft was. Throughout our Solar System and beyond, there exist obstacles as simple as dust that have a surprisingly massive impact on our ability to observe and study the cosmos.