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News Release Archive:

News Release 81 of 210

January 9, 2006 10:00 AM (EST)

News Release Number: STScI-2006-03

Mystery Solved: High-Energy Fireworks Linked to Massive Star Cluster

An American Astronomical Society Meeting Release

January 9, 2006: Call it the Bermuda Triangle of our Milky Way Galaxy: a tiny patch of sky that has been known for years to be the source of the mysterious blasts of X-rays and gamma rays. Now, a team of astronomers, led by Don Figer of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md., has solved the mystery by identifying one of the most massive star clusters in the galaxy. The little-known cluster, which has not been catalogued, is about 20 times more massive than typical star clusters in our galaxy, and appears to be the source of the powerful outbursts.

Supporting evidence for the hefty weight of this cluster is the presence of 14 red supergiants, hefty stars that have reached the end of their lives. They bloat up to about 100 times their normal size before exploding as supernovae. This image shows the star-studded region surrounding the massive star cluster. The bluish cluster is inside the white box. A close-up of the cluster can be seen in the inset photo.

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Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech, D. Figer (Space Telescope Science Institute/Rochester Institute of Technology), E. Churchwell (University of Wisconsin, Madison) and the GLIMPSE Legacy Team