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Spectacular New ESO Image Reveals Sibling Stars in Open Star Cluster

First Posted: Aug 19, 2015 10:27 AM EDT
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A spectacular new image reveals sibling stars in an open star cluster. The new picture, which was captured with ESO's Wide Field Image, shows an amazing display of stars located about 3,000 light-years away.

The new image is of the open star cluster IC 4651, which is located within the Milky Way in the constellation of Ara. The cluster is about 1.7 billion years old, which makes it middle-aged by open cluster standards.

This open cluster isn't alone, either. The Milky Way is known to contain over a thousand of these open clusters, and more are believed to exist. Observations of star clusters like these have helped further knowledge of the formation and evolution of the Milky Way, and the individual stars within it. The observations have also allowed astronomers to test their models of how stars evolve over time.

As stars within the cluster interact with other clusters and clouds of gas in the galaxy around them, and as the gas between the stars is either used up to form new stars or blown away from the cluster, the structure of the cluster begins to change. Eventually, the remaining mass in the cluster becomes small enough that even the stars can escape. In fact, the observed cluster is losing mass as stars flee.

A fraction of the lost stars may still be gravitationally bound to the cluster and surround it at a great distance. However, the remaining lost stars will have migrated away from the cluster to join others.

The new picture reveals a bit more about these open clusters which help astronomers learn a bit more about our galaxy.

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