Monday, November 6, 2017

A Beautiful Star Cluster for Dark Times

As many readers switch from Daylight Savings Time to find darker evenings awaiting them, here is a beautiful new image from the Hubble Space Telescope. We see a "globular cluster" with the catalog name M5 -- an ancient collection of stars, with about 100,000 of them visible on this remarkable photo.
The image combines views taken with visible light and infra-red cameras, and highlights some of the younger bluer stars sprinkled among the older yellower stars that make up the majority of the cluster. This grouping is about 25,000 light years away and was born 12-13 billion years ago.
It was about 100 years ago that Harlow Shapley, one of the greatest astronomers of the 20th century, used such bright globular clusters to map the extent and shape of our Milky Way Galaxy and to demonstrate conclusively that the Sun and the Earth were not in its center.
Such a beautiful picture can help remind us that there is a larger perspective out there, and help us put aside thoughts of the crazy things we seem to be doing to each other and to our fragile planet on almost a daily basis. Click on the pictures to see them bigger.  The diagram below shows how the globular clusters, distributed above and below the plane of our Galaxy, help outline its shape and extent.

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