My God, it's really full of stars!

Illustration for article titled My God, it's really full of stars!

Check out one of our closest looks yet at a globular star cluster, Messier 107, showing how thousands of older stars occupy a relatively small area. Click through for a video zooming in on the fringes of our galaxy.

The image and video come from the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope. From the ESO's website:

The globular cluster Messier 107, also known as NGC 6171, is a compact and ancient family of stars that lies about 21 000 light-years away. Messier 107 is a bustling metropolis: thousands of stars in globular clusters like this one are concentrated into a space that is only about twenty times the distance between our Sun and its nearest stellar neighbour, Alpha Centauri, across. A significant number of these stars have already evolved into red giants, one of the last stages of a star's life, and have a yellowish colour in this image.

Globular clusters are among the oldest objects in the Universe. And since the stars within a globular cluster formed from the same cloud of interstellar matter at roughly the same time - typically over 10 billion years ago - they are all low-mass stars, as lightweights burn their hydrogen fuel supply much more slowly than stellar behemoths. Globular clusters formed during the earliest stages in the formation of their host galaxies and therefore studying these objects can give significant insights into how galaxies, and their component stars, evolve.

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Corpore Metal

I should point out that that zoom is a a little false (CG, artist's conception or something.) because, of course, we have no cameras or telescopes out on the edge of our galaxy. The zoom starts from the edge of what we guess our galaxy looks like edge on.

That's all extrapolation and guesswork from radio and visual telescope mapping of the visible parts of the structure of our galaxy from our vantage point. But as yet, and probably for many, many centuries to come we won't have a picture of our galaxy as taken from the outside.

We know it's a barred spiral, we know it's rough shape to a fairly high degree of accuracy, we know our solar system's position in it and, of course these measurements are getting more and more accurate all the time, but that isn't the same thing as having an actual picture.