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Hubble spies exotic double cluster

NGC 1850 contains peculiar patches of super hot and super young stars
NGC 1850 contains peculiar patches of super hot and super young stars  

By Richard Stenger

(CNN) -- A prominent double cluster in a nearby galaxy, captured in stunning detail by the Hubble Space Telescope, represents a kind of object unlike anything in our own Milky Way galaxy.

The cosmic oddity, located in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy to the Milky Way, is the star attraction in a new Hubble image released by international scientists on Tuesday.

The double cluster, known as NGC 1850, is a dense collection of juvenile, globular-like stars, and the second brightest star cluster in the Large Magellanic Cloud. The celestial phenomenon has no equivalent in our galaxy, Hubble scientists said.

"These objects are different from what we find in our galaxy in that they are at the same time very compact, rather massive and recently formed," said Nino Panagia, one of the astronomers who studied NGC 1850.


More conventional star groupings, so-called globular clusters, are among the oldest stellar systems in the universe. They have been around for at least ten billion years, Panagia said.

The NGC 1850 cluster consists of a main clump in the center of the image as well as a smaller, younger bunch to the lower right, composed of exceptionally hot blue stars and fainter red ones, known as T-Tauri stars.

The main batch of stars is about 50 million years old and the more diminutive one is about 4 million years old.

T-Tauri stars, which have just started converting hydrogen into helium, are low-mass spheres of energy that in some ways resemble our sun in its infancy.

Such stars often form in crowded environs, making them difficult to detect with telescopes on the ground. But the Hubble observatory, which trains its powerful lens into the heavens from Earth orbit, can spot them even in other galaxies, Hubble scientists said.

The nebulous filaments that encompass NGC 1850 are thin wisps of gas, the eerie remnants of supernovae explosions that rocked the central cluster millions of years ago, according to astronomers.

Such violent stellar deaths spawn more life in the cosmos. The shock waves from supernova blasts compress gas and debris, which in turn trigger the birth of stars.

The image was created from five archival Hubble exposures of NGC 1850, which is located in the southern constellation Dorado, or Goldfish. The double cluster is about 168,000 light-years from Earth.

• The Hubble Space Telescope Project
• Space Telescope Science Institute
• Hubble Heritage Project
• The Best of Hubble

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