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NASA's Hubble Space Telescope found young stars spiralling into the centre of a giant cluster of stars in the Small Magellanic Cloud, a satellite or companion galaxy of the Milky Way orbiting around it. The outer arm of the spiral-shaped stellar (star) nursery NGC 346 is helping in star formation in a river-like motion of gas and stars. Researchers believe that this is an ideal way to initiate star birth. 

Image Credits: NASA

What did scientists observe?

NGC 346 is one of the stellar clusters in the universe that has always puzzled scientists due to its unique shape and high star formation rate. It has a diameter of 150 light-years and weighs around 50,000 Suns. Researchers collected data from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (VLT) to gather information on its unusual behaviour. 


They observed the movement of the stars in the NGC 346 in two different ways. They used Hubble to measure the changes in the stars' position for 11 years. They found that the stars are moving with an average velocity of 2000 miles per hour (3218.68 kilometres per hour). This means they'll move 200 million miles in 11 years which is double the distance between the earth and the sun. Secondly, they used ground-based VLT's Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) instrument to measure the radial velocity that determines the path and distance of a celestial object from an observer. 


"What was really amazing is that we used two completely different methods with different facilities and basically came to the same conclusion, independent of each other," said Peter Zeidler, a researcher at the European Space Agency. "With Hubble, you can see the stars, but with MUSE, we can also see the gas motion in the third dimension, and it confirms the theory that everything is spiralling inwards." 


Image Credits: NASA



Why is the study significant?

The study gives a clue on the formation of stars in the Small Magellanic Cloud. It could help in understanding star formation in multiple universes. Also, it provides an insight into various astronomical events like The Big Bang, which occurred in the past, taking us a step closer to learning about universe evolution. According to scientists, knowing more about satellite galaxies like Small Magellanic Cloud might reveal new information on a firestorm of star birth that might have occurred in the early universe when it was 2 to 3 billion years old after The Big Bang. 


"Stars are the machines that sculpt the universe. We would not have life without stars, and yet we don't fully understand how they form," said Elena Sabbi, lead study author. "We have several models that make predictions, and some of these predictions are contradictory. We want to determine what is regulating the process of star formation because these are the laws that we also need to understand what we see in the early universe." 


The study findings were published in the journal The Astrophysical Journal


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