Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Star Clusters Collide

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Star Clusters Collide

Article excerpt

Astronomers using data from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have caught two clusters full of massive stars that may be in the early stages of merging. The clusters are 170,000 light years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a small satellite galaxy to our own Milky Way.

What at first was thought to be only one cluster in the core of the massive star-forming region 30 Doradus (also known as the Tarantula Nebula) has been found to be a composite of two clusters that differ in age by about one million years. The entire 30 Doradus complex has been an active star-forming region for 25 million years.

Lead scientist Elena Sabbi of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md., and her team began looking at the area while searching for runaway stars, fast-moving stars that have been kicked out of their stellar nurseries where they first formed. "Stars are supposed to form in clusters, but there are many young stars outside 30 Doradus that could not have formed where they are; they may have been ejected at very high velocity from 30 Doradus itself," Sabbi said.

She then noticed something unusual about the cluster when looking at the distribution of the low-mass stars detected by Hubble. It is not spherical, as was expected, but has features somewhat similar to the shape of two merging galaxies, where their shapes are elongated by the tidal pull of gravity. …

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