The bright blue stars of the Messier 18 cluster sparkle in this new breathtaking view captured by the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (VLT).
The Messier 18 star cluster — which can be seen in the upper left of the new telescope view — is located about 4,600 light-years from Earth, in the constellation of Sagittarius (the Archer). It is comprised of many sibling stars that were all born from the same massive cloud of gas and dust, ESO officials said in a statement debuting the image.
Messier 18 is an example of an open star cluster because its stars are younger and more loosely packed together than those of globular star clusters. The new image — taken by the VLT, located at ESO's Paranal Observatory in Chile — shows stars ranging in color from blue to white, as well as surrounding red clouds of dust and gas. The blue and white hues suggest the stars are only about 30 million years old, according to the statement.
As siblings, these stars have a lot in common: They are made of the same material and they are all located about the same distance from Earth. The only difference observed among this group is that the stars have varying masses.
"There are over 1,000 known open star clusters within the Milky Way, with a wide range of properties, such as size and age," ESO officials said in the statement. "The main appeal of these clusters is that all of their stars are born together out of the same material."
Because the stars have so much in common, scientists can look for subtler similarities and differences among them as they age, which allows astronomers to learn more about star formation and evolution.
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