Damn. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what stargazers call a globular cluster โ€” a spherical grouping of gravitationally bound celestial bodies, swirling about deep in the inky blackness of space. [Hi-res available here]

There are somewhere between 150 and 158 globular clusters in our galaxy (the exact number depends on who you ask), but the one you see up top โ€” known to astronomers as "NGC 6752" โ€” is one of the brightest in the entire night sky. It's also one of the most ancient collection of celestial bodies we've ever observed; at over 10 billion years old, the lights from NGC 6752 were shining more than five billion years before our solar system even existed.


According to NASA:

NGC 6752 contains a high number of "blue straggler'' stars, some of which are visible in this image. These stars display characteristics of stars younger than their neighbors, despite models suggesting that most of the stars within globular clusters should have formed at approximately the same time. Their origin is therefore something of a mystery.

Studies of NGC 6752 may shed light on this situation. It appears that a very high number โ€” up to 38 percent โ€” of the stars within its core region are binary systems. Collisions between stars in this turbulent area could produce the blue stragglers that are so prevalent.


Photo by ESA/NASA/Hubble, via