Stars May Collide in This Shrouded, Densely-Packed Cluster in the Milky Way

First Posted: Jun 18, 2015 09:01 AM EDT

Scientists may have discovered a region of space where stars collide. They've found a cluster of stars that are so densely packed that it's likely that they may collide in the future.

The cluster of stars, in this case, is known as Liller 1. It's a difficult target to study due to its distance and also because it's located close to the center of the Milky Way-about 3,200 light-years away from it. Here, dust obscures objects and makes it difficult for scientists to image them. With that said, the astronomers employed the Gemini Observatory to make ultra-sharp observations.

"Although our galaxy has upwards of 200 billion stars, there is so much vacancy between stars that there are very few places where suns actually collide," said Douglas Geisler, one of the researchers, in a news release. "The congested overcrowded central regions of globular clusters are one of these places. Our observations confirmed that, among globular clusters, Liller 1 is one of the best environments in our galaxy for stellar collisions."

Liller 1 is a tight sphere of stars known as a globular cluster. Globular clusters orbit in a large halo around the center of our galaxy. This cluster, though, is largely obscured by material in the central bulge of our galaxy.

In this latest study, though, the researchers were able to penetrate the dense fog surrounding the cluster. They found that the cluster has stars packed tightly together. In fact, it's very likely the stars will collide.

"Indeed our observations confirm Liller 1 as one of the best 'laboratories' where the impact of star cluster dynamics on stellar evolution can be studied: it opens the window to a sort of stellar sociology study, aimed at measuring the impact of the reciprocal influence of stars when they are forced to live in the conditions of extreme crowding and stress," said Francesco Ferraro.

The findings are published in The Astrophysical Journal.

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