Click to enlargeHubble Massive Star Cluster Photo

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A Hidden, Massive Star Cluster Awash with Red Supergiants. Note: This photo is the large Spitzer color-composite image only, and does not include the boxed and inset views referred to below.

The sky is a jewelry box full of sparkling stars in these infrared images. The crown jewels are 14 massive stars on the verge of exploding as supernovae. These hefty stars reside in one of the most massive star clusters in the Milky Way Galaxy. The bluish cluster is inside the white box in the large image, which shows the star-studded region around it. A close-up of the cluster can be seen in the inset photo.

These large stars are a tip-off to the mass of the young cluster. Astronomers estimate that the cluster is at least 20,000 times as massive as the Sun. Each red supergiant is about 20 times the Sun's mass.

The larger color-composite image was taken by the Spitzer Space Telescope for the Galactic Legacy Infrared Mid-Plane Survey Extraordinaire (GLIMPSE) Legacy project. The survey penetrates obscuring dust along the thick disk of our galaxy to reveal never-before-seen stars and star clusters. The false colors in the image correspond to infrared-light emission. The stars in this image all appear blue because they emit most of their infrared light at shorter wavelengths.

The cluster lies 18,900 light-years away in the direction of the constellation Scutum. It is the first in a survey of 130 potentially massive star clusters in the Milky Way that astronomers will study over the next five years using a variety of telescopes, including the Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes. The Spitzer image was taken April 4, 2004.

Release Date: January 9, 2006
Credit for Spitzer Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech, D. Figer (Space Telescope Science Institute/Rochester Institute of Technology), E. Churchwell (University of Wisconsin, Madison) and the GLIMPSE Legacy Team

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