It's Full of Stars! Brilliant Cluster Captured in New Images, Video

Open Cluster IC 4651
Colorful stars in the open cluster IC 4651 3,000 light-years from Earth shine in this image taken at ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile, using the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope. (Image credit: European Southern Observatory)

A middle-aged clutch of stars shines in many colors in a new view of deep space by a telescope in Chile.  

The stars in the image are from an open star cluster called IC 4651, which lies in the Milky Way about 3,000 light-years from Earth. Astronomers used the La Silla Observatory in Chile, part of the European Southern Observatory, to capture the sparkly view. ESO astronomers created a video of the star cluster to showcase the image.

About 1.7 billion years ago, the stars were created out of a huge cloud of gas. They remain loosely linked to each other through mutual gravitational attraction and the gravitational effects of the gas that still lingers between them. [Star Quiz: Test Your Stellar Smarts]

Over time, however, gravity will shift the gas, which will also be used for more star birth, setting the stars free. This has already started to happen. While astronomers recently found that IC 4651 has a mass 630 times that of Earth's sun, it is believed that the cluster contained 8,300 stars when it formed, with a total mass equivalent to 5,300 times that of Earth's sun.

"As this cluster is relatively old, a part of this lost mass will be due to the most massive stars in the cluster having already reached the ends of their lives and exploded as supernovae," ESO officials wrote in an image description.

"However, the majority of the stars that have been lost will not have died, but merely moved on. They will have been stripped from the cluster as it passed by a giant gas cloud or had a close encounter with a neighboring cluster, or even simply drifted away."

The cosmic neighborhood around the open star cluster IC 4651 is filled with stars of all types. This shows a wide-field view around the cluster using images from the Digitized Sky Survey 2. The bright star on the the left is Alpha Arae, one of the brightest stars in the constellation of Ara (The Altar). (Image credit: ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2; Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin)

The image was obtained using the Wide Field Imager that is mounted on the MPG/ESO 2.2-meter telescope at La Silla Observatory.

The Milky Way has thousands of star clusters of this type. Scientists think that the sun formed in a cluster such as this one, but over time drifted away from its cluster. Studying the clusters allows astronomers to test their hypotheses of how the sun was formed.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: