The star cluster NGC 1854 has been photographed by astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) in a dramatic new photograph. The collection of hundreds of clusters of stars sits roughly 135,000 light-years away from our home planet.
The constellation of Dorado (the Dolphin), visible from the southern hemisphere, is home to the colorful star cluster. This system sits within the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), neighboring the Milky Way galaxy. Star clusters are often the subjects of study by astronomers, and the HST is an ideal observatory to examine the fields in great detail.
"The LMC is a hotbed of vigorous star formation. Rich in interstellar gas and dust, the galaxy is home to approximately 60 globular clusters and 700 open clusters. These clusters are frequently the subject of astronomical research, as the Large Magellanic Cloud and its little sister, the Small Magellanic Cloud, are the only systems known to contain clusters at all stages of evolution," NASA officials wrote in a press release announcing the image.
The Hubble observatory is so powerful, astronomers are often able to discern individual stars in these systems. These studies allow investigators to measure the size and age of the system and unlock secrets of that body's formation, as well as other similar formations.
The HST was launched in April 1990, conducting research from 347 miles above the Earth. The space-based observatory was granted an extended mission just this month, as NASA extended the program until at least 2021.
"After the final space shuttle servicing mission to the telescope in 2009, Hubble is better than ever. Hubble is expected to continue to provide valuable data into the 2020's, securing its place in history as an outstanding general purpose observatory in areas ranging from our solar system to the distant universe," NASA officials wrote in a press release.
The star cluster was first seen by human eyes on Aug. 2, 1826, when Scottish astronomer James Dunlop viewed the object through a telescope.
This new photograph was recorded by the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), aboard the Hubble. This instrument records targets in the near-infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum, as well as in visible light. This particular image was recorded through a pair of filters - one green, the other near-infrared.
The Magellanic Clouds, orbiting our home galaxy, are rich in interstellar gas and dust. The regions are home to widespread, active star formation, providing a rich field of study for astronomers.