04.03.13

A Confetti-Like Collection of Stars

It's like a disco wonderland for stars. The tip of the "wing" of the Small Magellanic Cloud galaxy is dazzling in pink and purples in a new view from NASA's Great Observatories. The Small Magellanic Cloud is a small galaxy about 200,000 light-years away from own Milky Way spiral galaxy.

The colors represent wavelengths of light across a broad spectrum. X-rays from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory are shown in purple; visible-light from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope is colored red, green and blue; and infrared observations from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope are also represented in red. 

The gem of a spiral galaxy seen in the lower corner is actually behind this nebula. Other distant galaxies located hundreds of millions of light-years or more away can be seen sprinkled around the edge of the image.

The three telescopes highlight different aspects of this lively stellar community. Winds and radiation from massive stars located in the central, disco-ball-like cluster of stars, called NGC 602a, have swept away surrounding material, clearing an opening in the star-forming cloud. 

Chandra reveals X-rays that seem to be coming largely from low-mass young stars in the central cluster. These stars were picked out previously by infrared and optical surveys, using Spitzer and Hubble respectively. 

A new study based on Chandra observations and published in the Astrophysical Journal suggests that the X-ray properties of these young stars are similar to others in different environments. This, in turn, suggests that other related properties -- including the formation and evolution of disks where planets form -- are also likely to be similar. 

The full story from Chandra is online at http://chandra.harvard.edu/photo/2013/ngc602/.