Hubble 'Time Machine' Looks 10,000 Years Into Future

Hubble 'Time Machine' Looks 10,000 Years Into Future
This multicolor snapshot, at top, taken with Wide Field Camera 3 aboard NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, shows the central region of the giant globular cluster Omega Centauri. Astronomers used this and other observations to measure positions for stars in 2002 and 2006. From these measurements, they were able to predict the stars' future movements. The bottom illustration charts the future positions of the stars highlighted by the white box in the top image. Each streak represents the motion of the star over the next 600 years. (Image credit: NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI). Full story.)

Astronomers have created a cosmic time machine of sorts toproject what part of the universe is going to look like 10,000 years into thefuture.

Using observations from the Hubble Space Telescope,scientists have calculated how stars in the globular cluster Omega Centauriwill move for millennia to come.

When it was first catalogued by the ancient Roman astronomerPtolemy 2,000 years ago, Omega Centauri was thought to be a single star. Now thiscluster, located almost 16,000 light-years from Earth in our Milky Way galaxy,is known to be a swarm of about 10 million stars, all orbiting a common centerof gravity. [Video:Hubble's vision of Omega Centauri's future]

By analyzing archived imagestaken over a four-year period by Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys,astronomers have made the most accurate measurements yet of the motions of morethan 100,000 cosmic inhabitants of the globularcluster, the largest survey to date to study the movement of stars in anycluster.

"It takes high-speed, sophisticated computer programsto measure the tiny shifts in the positions of the stars that occur in onlyfour years' time," said astronomer Jay Anderson of the Space TelescopeScience Institute in Baltimore, Md., who conducted the study with fellow STScI astronomerRoeland van der Marel. "Ultimately, though, it is Hubble's razor-sharpvision that is the key to our ability to measure stellar motions in thiscluster."

The astronomers used the Hubble images, which were taken in2002 and 2006, to make a video simulation of the frenzied motion of thecluster's stars. The simulation shows the stars' projected migration over thenext 10,000 years.

Identified as a globular star cluster in 1867, OmegaCentauri is one of roughly 150 such clusters in our Milky Way Galaxy.

The behemoth stellar grouping is the biggest and brightestglobular cluster in the Milky Way, and one of the few that can be seenby the unaided eye. Omega Centauri is located in the constellationCentaurus and is viewable in the southern skies.

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