The Hubble telescope has discovered a magnificent open star cluster at a distance of 160,000 light years

Open star cluster NGC 2002 sparkles with stars in this image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope and released December 5, 2022. (Image credit: NASA, ESA and J. Gilmour (University of Cambridge); Editing: Gladys Kober (NASA/Catholic University of America))

Stars in the NGC 2002 cluster sparkle in a new image of deep space taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.

The cluster lies about 160,000 light-years from Earth inside the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a galaxy orbiting our own Milky Way. NASA shared an image from the Hubble Space Telescope on Dec. 5.

At the center of the cluster are five red supergiants, or stars, that have begun fusing helium because their internal hydrogen fuel has run out. These stars are heavy and sunk inwards. The bright stars drifted towards the outer edges of the cluster.

On the subject: The best images of the Hubble Space Telescope of all time!

NGC 2002 is known as an “open cluster”, meaning that its 1,100 stars are loosely bound to each other and may diffuse out of the cluster over the next few million years. The relative sparseness of a star cluster allows scientists to observe every single star within. It is also a relatively young cluster, only 18 million years old.

Because of its youth, NGC 2002 is a natural laboratory in which scientists can observe the earliest stages of a star’s life. Understanding the birth, evolution, and death of stars is vital to our broader understanding of the universe. Stars are the building blocks of the universe, providing a place for planets to form (and for life to evolve!). To better understand our sun, solar system, and galaxy, scientists are turning to stargazing across the universe.

The home of NGC 2002, LMC, is one of the best places for scientists to observe stars of all ages. The LMC is a 7,000 light-year wide dwarf galaxy that orbits the Milky Way at a distance of about 163,000 light-years from us. This is one of the closest galaxies to us, which allows scientists to observe individual stars of any age within the galaxy.

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