Hubble Telescope Snaps Incredible Photo of Star Cluster in Neighboring Galaxy

The Hubble Space Telescope has captured a spectacular image of a group of stars located in a neighboring galaxy of the Milky Way, around 160,000 light-years from Earth.

The image shows what's known as an "open cluster" called NGC 2164, which is found within a satellite galaxy known as the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC).

According to the European Space Agency, open clusters are "loosely bound groups of a few tens to a few hundred stars" that are found in spiral and irregular galaxies.

These clusters of stars, which can be young or old, are not particularly stable due to their open and diffuse structures. As a result, their constituent stars might disperse after a few million years.

This is why these clusters are found in spiral and irregular galaxies—where new stars are being formed—but not usually in elliptical galaxies. Most elliptical galaxies tend to be composed of older stars and feature minimal star-forming activity. Thus, any open clusters in these galaxies would likely have dispersed long ago.

The open cluster NGC 2164 was first discovered by a Scottish astronomer named James Dunlop in 1826.

The open cluster known as NGC 2164
An image captured by the Hubble Space Telescope showing the open cluster known as NGC 2164, located in the Large Magellanic Cloud. ESA/Hubble & NASA, J. Kalirai, A. Milone

In the Hubble image, which was captured by the telescope's Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3), numerous bright white stars can be seen in a relatively concentrated cluster within the LMC, which is home to roughly 700 open clusters.

The Large Magellanic Cloud is considered a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way because it is gravitationally bound to its larger neighbor. In fact, the two galaxies are actually on course to collide with each other, but this won't happen for another 2.4 billion years or so.

The LMC contains billions of stars but it is still relatively small, with a mass only about one hundredth that of the Milky Way.

In our galaxy, open clusters are found in and between the Milky Way's majestic spiral arms. To date, astronomers have discovered around 1,100 of these clusters in the Milky Way, although the true number is likely far higher.

Studying star clusters such as NGC 2164 can help to cast light into the processes of stellar formation and evolution.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a joint project of NASA and the European Space Agency, which has been in operation for more than 30 years. The telescope is capable of observing the universe in a host of different wavelengths, ranging from ultraviolet to near-infrared light.

Last week, the European Space Agency released another spectacular image captured by Hubble's WFC3 showing the the spiral galaxy NGC 1385 in all its glory. The galaxy lies in the constellation Fornax and is located around 68 million light-years from Earth.

The spiral galaxy NGC 1385
An image captured by Hubble showing NGC 1385, a spiral galaxy 68 million light-years from Earth. ESA/Hubble & NASA, J. Lee and the PHANGS-HST Team