Saturday, May 28, 2022

Omega Centauri

Amongst the most famous and observed objects in the sky, Omega Centauri is a globular cluster 17 thousand light-years from Earth. Of apparent magnitude +3.9, Omega Centauri is the brightest globular cluster visible from Earth, but unfortunately being located in the southern hemisphere is not observable from the latitudes of our country.

It is also the largest and most massive globular cluster in the Milky Way. It is estimated to contain more than ten million stars with a total mass of over 4 million solar masses enclosed in a sphere with a diameter of 150 light-years.

These outstanding characteristics led astronomers to suspect that the origin of Omega Centauri was very different from other globular clusters. Extensive studies of the properties of its stars have confirmed the researchers' suspicions.

Within Omega Centauri, stars of very different metallicity have been observed. This means that its stars were formed at different times as a result of different phenomena of star formation, on the contrary from what happens to normal globular clusters that form at the same time. 

Astronomers think that Omega Centauri was once a small satellite galaxy in the Milky Way. As a result of gravitational interactions, the satellite galaxy would disintegrate and its outer stars would be engulfed by the Milky Way, while the core would reorganize to form the globular cluster that we see today.

Credit: ESO.

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