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Hubble scientists are finding new ways to measure the age of star clusters

  Hubble star cluster aged globular clusters ngc 1466
This NASA / ESA Hubble Space Telescope image shows an old, shimmering star ball named NGC 1466. ESA / Hubble & NASA

This Hubble Image shows a scene within the boundaries of our galactic neighbor, the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) galaxy. This particular object, called NGC 1

466, is a kind of cluster of stars called globular clusters – a group of stars that are held together by gravity and move together through the edges of the LMC. It is located 160,000 light-years from Earth. Together, NGC weighs 1466 140,000 of our sun and is extremely old. Scientists reckon with an age of 13.1 billion years, which is almost as old as the universe itself.

The object, however, provides more than just a pretty picture. Observations from Hubble have revealed more about how star clusters arise and grow. As star clusters are active and evolving and the structures change over time, larger and heavier stars tend to sink into the middle of the heap. Over time, the core of the cluster contracts.

However, the star clusters in LMC have something weird about it. The younger clusters are compact, while older clusters are both compact and diffuse. The new research suggests that this can be understood by looking at a kind of "revived star" called a blue straggler. These stars collect additional fuel on their journey and become much brighter. And because they have a high mass, the latecomers are drawn into the center of clusters.

This means that astronomers can observe blue laggards in LMC clusters and use these observations to sort clusters by age. "We have shown that different structures of star clusters are due to different levels of dynamic aging: they have a different physical form, even though they were born at the same cosmic time," said Francesco Ferraro of the University of Bologna in Italy in a statement. "This is the first time that the effect of dynamic aging has been measured in the LMC clusters."

These data may also be useful for future research, co-author Barbara Lanzoni said in the same statement: "These results are interesting areas for further research as they provide a new and valuable way to read the observed patterns of LMC Show star clusters and give new clues to the genesis of clusters in the LMC galaxy. "

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