Cosmic ‘fireworks’ shine in baby star cluster and distant galaxy

A high-powered telescope array has caught the brilliant fireworks-like “streamers” of gas formed during an early stage of star development in a giant cluster.

That process may take a million years to complete, according to scientists who captured a new look at the star cluster formally known as G286.21+0.17. To image the star cluster in all its glory, the astronomers used two different instruments: the Hubble Space Telescope, which provided a look at the existing stars in the cluster, and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile, which provided a look at the gas falling inward to form future stars.

“This illustrates how dynamic and chaotic the process of star birth is,” co-author Jonathan Tan of Chalmers University in Sweden and the University of Virginia, said in a statement. “We see competing forces in action: gravity and turbulence from the cloud on one side, and stellar winds and radiation pressure from the young stars on the other.”

Related: It’s full of stars! Brilliant cluster captured in new images, video

“This process sculpts the region,” Tan said in the statement. “It is amazing to think that our own sun and planets were once part of such a cosmic dance.”

The gas in that dance is colored based on how quickly it is moving with regard to our sun. (That said, the cluster is about 8,000 light-years away from Earth.) Pinker purples represent more slowly moving gas, while bluer purples represent faster moving gas. Scientists combined more than 750 different photographs from ALMA to create the final picture of the gas.

An image of the star cluster G286.21+0.17 includes more than 750 photos captured by ALMA, plus nine images from the Hubble Space Telescope. (Image credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), Y. Cheng et al.; NRAO/AUI/NSF, S. Dagnello; NASA/ESA Hubble)

That gas is falling into the cluster thanks to the work of gravity, and once it fully collapses, it will become the stuff new stars are made of. But it’s a slow process unfolding in a large system: the researchers suspect it will take about a million years before the cluster finishes developing.

The research is described in two recent papers published in The Astrophysical Journal.

While astronomers enjoy the fireworks in star cluster G286.21+0.17, another team of astronomers dug up some celestial pyrotechnics of their own. 

The spiral galaxy NGC 925 reveals cosmic pyrotechnics in its spiral arms where bursts of star formation are taking place in the red, glowing clouds scattered throughout it. (Image credit: KPNO/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA)

Astronomers with the Nicholas U. Mayall 4-meter Telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona, part of the National Science Foundation’s NOIRLab, looked into their archives to find this image of cosmic fireworks in the galaxy NGC 925. 

“If you’re looking for fireworks for the US celebration of the Fourth of July, then look no further than the world of astronomy,” researchers wrote in a statement. “The cosmic firework at the center of this image, the spiral galaxy NGC 925, resembles a vast pinwheel, with a bright central bar and swirling spiral arms. The red bursts strewn throughout NGC 925 are eruptions of star formation, which can be traced by observing conspicuous hydrogen-alpha emission.”

NGC 925 is about 20 million light-years from Earth in the direction of the constellation Triangulum (The Triangle). 

Email Meghan Bartels at or follow her on Twitter @meghanbartels. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.


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