Earthlings may be coping with blizzards and theatrical political campaigns at the moment. But far away – very far away – the brightest stars in the galaxy shine with a brilliance that even awes astronomers. The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has captured just such an image, in a star cluster named Trumpler 14, some 8,000 light years away.
No, the cosmic phenomenon is not named for Donald Trump, the Republican front-runner with a penchant for 24-carat gold-plated fixtures on his private jet. It is, instead, named for one Robert Julius Trumpler, a noted 20th-century astronomer who developed a major star classification system. The Trumpler 14 cluster gets glowing reviews from the experts.
“One of the largest gatherings of hot, massive and bright stars in the Milky Way, this cluster houses some of the most luminous stars in our entire galaxy,” NASA advises, noting that the big grouping is “a mere 500,000 years old” that is, when compared to the Pleiades cluster, which is 115 million years old.
“Trumpler 14 is not only one of the most populous clusters within the Carina Nebula, but also the youngest. However, it is fast making up for lost time, forming stars at an incredible rate and putting on a stunning visual display,” NASA says.
Find the agency’s video that zooms in on the “jewel box” here
Which is where the Hubble Space Telescope comes in. Launched in 1990 by the Space Shuttle Discovery, the 27,000-pound device maintains its orbit some 340 miles above Earth, whirling around the planet at 17,000 mph. And it gets some great pictures, free from the haze of Earth’s atmosphere. Which is where Trumpler 14 comes in. NASA and ESA released the new image on Thursday; the charmed space agencies labeled it “dazzling diamonds.” The exotic star shine has drawn global news coverage.
“This region of space houses one of the highest concentrations of massive, luminous stars in the entire Milky Way – a spectacular family of young, bright, white-blue stars,” NASA explains. “These stars are rapidly working their way through their vast supplies of hydrogen, and have only a few million years of life left before they meet a dramatic demise and explode as supernovae.”
And like anything that is young and bright, the stars in the Trumpler 14 cluster are also restless – fllinging out high-speed particles, surging space winds and shock waves that that heat surrounding gas to many millions of degrees. The stars move through space, astronomers say, at about 217,000 mph, carving out holes in adjacent clouds of gas and dust as they go.
Trumpler 14 is home to some 2,000 stars, ranging in size from one tenth the mass of Earth’s own sun to 10 times its size. And the brightest of all?
“It is one of the most brilliant and hottest stars in our entire galaxy,” the space agency says, noting that Trumpler 14 is one of 1,100 known star clusters in the Milky Way alone.