Hubble Space Telescope discovers spiral of star formations 150 light-years in diameter

The discovery used 11 years of data acquired by Hubble.
Loukia Papadopoulos
NGC 346.
NGC 346.

ESA 

The NASA, ESA Hubble Space Telescope, and the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) have spotted a mysterious-looking stellar nesting ground.

The findings consists of young stars spiraling into the center of a massive cluster of stars in the Small Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, according to a press release published by the European Space Agency (ESA) on Thursday.

Machines that sculpt the Universe

“Stars are the machines that sculpt the Universe. We would not have life without stars, and yet we don’t fully understand how they form,” explained study leader Elena Sabbi of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.

“We have several models that make predictions, and some of these predictions are contradictory. We want to determine what is regulating the process of star formation, because these are the laws that we need to also understand what we see in the early Universe.”

Hubble Space Telescope discovers spiral of star formations 150 light-years in diameter
NGC 346.

ESA 

Only 150 light-years in diameter, the new find is called the NGC 346, and it boasts the mass of 50 000 Suns. Researchers used two different methods to determine the motion of the stars in NGC 346.

With the help of Hubble, Sabbi and her team measured the changes in the stars’ positions over 11 years and determined that they are moving at an average velocity of 3200 kilometers per hour, which means that in 11 years, they move 320 million kilometers. This distance is equivalent to the one between Earth and the Sun.

But since the stars are so very far away, inside a neighboring galaxy, observed motion is very small, and therefore, difficult to ascertain. These incredible measurements were made possible only because of Hubble’s exquisite resolution and high sensitivity.

Two different methods

A second team of researchers, led by Peter Zeidler of AURA/STScI for the European Space Agency, made use of the ground-based VLT’s Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) instrument to evaluate radial velocity.

“What was really amazing is that we used two completely different methods with different facilities, and basically, we came to the same conclusion independently,” said Zeidler.

“With Hubble, you can see the stars, but with MUSE, we can also see the gas motion in the third dimension, and it confirms the theory that everything is spiraling inwards.”

Hubble Space Telescope discovers spiral of star formations 150 light-years in diameter
NGC 346 2.

ESA 

“A spiral is really the good, natural way to feed star formation from the outside towards the center of the cluster. It’s the most efficient way that stars and gas fuelling more star formation can move towards the center.”

Perhaps what is most astounding is that most of the Hubble data for this study was taken more than 11 years ago. The data which is archived now contains more than 32 years of astronomical information.

“The Hubble archive is really a gold mine,” concluded Sabbi. “There are so many interesting star-forming regions that Hubble has observed over the years. Given that Hubble is performing so well, we can actually repeat these observations. This can really advance our understanding of star formation.”

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