Hubble discovers spiral ‘stars’ in the small Magellanic Cloud

(ORDO NEWS) — Astronomers have discovered young stars that are spiraling into the center of the star cluster NGC 346, located in the Small Magellanic Cloud.

The Small Magellanic Cloud has a simpler chemical composition than the Milky Way, making it similar to galaxies that existed in a younger universe when there were not so many heavy elements.

Because of this, stars in the Small Magellanic Cloud burn hotter and run out of fuel faster than stars in our own Milky Way.

Although the Small Magellanic Cloud is 200,000 light-years away, it is one of our closest galactic neighbors.

The diameter of the cluster NGC 346 is 150 light years, the mass of the cluster is about 50,000 solar masses. Its intriguing shape and rapid rate of star formation have puzzled astronomers.

The researchers determined the direction of the stars in NGC 346 in two different ways. Using Hubble, scientists measured the changes in the positions of stars over 11 years.

In this region, the stars move at an average speed of 3219 km/h. This means that in 11 years they have moved 322 million kilometers. This is about 2 times the distance between the Sun and the Earth.

But this cluster is relatively far away, inside a neighboring galaxy. This means that the magnitude of the observed movement is very small and therefore difficult to measure.

Accurate observations were only possible thanks to the high sensitivity of Hubble.

Using the Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) instrument of the Very Large Telescope, scientists measured the radial velocity of stars in the central region of the cluster.

“What’s really amazing is that we used two completely different methods with different capabilities and came to the same conclusion independently of each other,” the researchers said.

“With Hubble you can see the stars, but with MUSE we can also see the movement of gas in the third dimension, and the observations support the theory that everything is moving inward.”

The data obtained confirm that the movement in the cluster is carried out in a spiral. The researchers note that the spiral shape affects the processes of star formation in the cluster.

“The spiral is a really good, natural way to feed star formation from outside to the center of the cluster,” the scientists explained.

“This is the most efficient way that stars and gas fueling further star formation can move toward the center.”

Half of the Hubble data for this study of NGC 346 is archival. The first observations were made 11 years ago. They have recently been repeated to trace the movement of the stars through time.

Given the telescope’s longevity, the Hubble data archive now contains over 32 years of astronomical data, which is a source of invaluable long-term research.


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