Hubble Captures Stars Across Generations
Generally, globular star clusters tend to have really old stars, but @NASAHubble found one close to the Milky Way with a profusion of younger stars.
Called NGC 1866, this cluster is found at the very edges of the Large Magellanic Cloud, a small galaxy located near the Milky Way. The cluster was discovered in 1826 by Scottish astronomer James Dunlop, who cataloged thousands of stars and deep-sky objects during his career.
NGC 1866 is also situated close enough that its stars can be studied individually — no small feat given the mammoth distances involved in studying the cosmos! There is still debate over how globular clusters form, but generally, most of their stars are old and have few elements other than hydrogen and helium; since stars form heavier elements within their core as they carry out nuclear fusion throughout their lifetimes, stars with many heavier elements tend to be younger, formed later in the cosmic time-scale. It’s possible that the stars within globular clusters are so old that they were actually some of the very first to form after the big bang.
In the case of NGC 1866, though, not all stars are the same. Different populations, or generations, of stars are thought to coexist within the cluster. Once the first generation of stars formed, the cluster may have encountered a giant gas cloud that sparked a new wave of star formation and gave rise to a second, younger generation of stars — explaining why it seems surprisingly youthful.
Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA
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