Astronomers have created a cosmic time machine of sorts to project what part of the universe is going to look like 10,000 years into the future.
Using observations from the Hubble Space Telescope, scientists have calculated how stars in the globular cluster Omega Centauri will move for millennia to come.
When it was first catalogued by the ancient Roman astronomer Ptolemy 2,000 years ago, Omega Centauri was thought to be a single star. Now this cluster, 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 center of gravity. [Video: Hubble's vision of Omega Centauri's future]
By analyzing archived images taken over a four-year period by Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys, astronomers have made the most accurate measurements yet of the motions of more than 100,000 cosmic inhabitants of the globular cluster, the largest survey to date to study the movement of stars in any cluster.
"It takes high-speed, sophisticated computer programs to measure the tiny shifts in the positions of the stars that occur in only four years' time," said astronomer Jay Anderson of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md., who conducted the study with fellow STScI astronomer Roeland van der Marel. "Ultimately, though, it is Hubble's razor-sharp vision that is the key to our ability to measure stellar motions in this cluster."
The astronomers used the Hubble images, which were taken in 2002 and 2006, to make a video simulation of the frenzied motion of the cluster's stars. The simulation shows the stars' projected migration over the next 10,000 years.
Identified as a globular star cluster in 1867, Omega Centauri is one of roughly 150 such clusters in our Milky Way Galaxy.
The behemoth stellar grouping is the biggest and brightest globular cluster in the Milky Way, and one of the few that can be seen by the unaided eye. Omega Centauri is located in the constellation Centaurus and is viewable in the southern skies.
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