Open star cluster in the Small Magellanic Cloud Today’s Image of the Day from the European Space Agency features the open star cluster NGC 330, which is located about 180,000 light-years away inside the Small Magellanic Cloud.
Star clusters form from a single primordial gas cloud. This means that all of the stars contained in a cluster are about the same age, making them very useful for learning how stars form and evolve.
According to ESA, the image uses observations from Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3, and incorporates data from two very different astronomical investigations. The Small Magellanic Cloud, or Nubecula Minor, is a dwarf galaxy near the Milky Way. Classified as a dwarf irregular galaxy, the SMC has a diameter of about 7,000 light-years, contains several hundred million stars, and has a total mass of approximately 7 billion solar masses. The SMC contains a central bar structure, and astronomers speculate that it was once a barred spiral galaxy that was disrupted by the Milky Way to become somewhat irregular. At a distance of about 200,000 light-years, the SMC is among the nearest intergalactic neighbors of the Milky Way and is one of the most distant objects visible to the naked eye.
The first study of NGC 330 investigated why stars in star clusters appear to evolve differently from stars elsewhere. The second study looked into how large stars can become before they explode.
Image Credit: ESA