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Astronomers Detect Largest Cluster Of Red Supergiants

Washington DC (SPX) Jan 10, 2006
Astronomers said Monday they have discovered "an extraordinarily massive young stellar cluster" within the Milky Way containing at least 14 red supergiants � fast-living, quick dying stars that grow to more than 100 times their normal size before exploding as supernovas.

"It is the richest cluster in the galaxy � and even in the local group of galaxies," said team leader Don Figer of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. Figer and colleagues presented their findings at the American Astronomical Association's annual meeting.

The cluster is exceptional because so far only 200 red supergiants have been discovered across the entire Milky Way. They are up to 1,000 times the mass of the sun and at least 10 times bigger than red giants.

Generally, Figer explained, stars in the red supergiant phase last only about half a million years. In this cluster, the average distance between the supergiants is only about 5 light-years, and the typical total age of the stars is only about 8 million years.

There is one supernova remnant within the cluster, and given the propensity of red supergiants to explode, the cluster becomes a prime area of interest for supernova watchers. The newly discovered cluster appears to be the source of powerful outbursts of X-rays and gamma rays that have been detected from that part of the galaxy. "We think the cluster is a hotbed of supernova activity," Figer said.

The team used the Spitzer and the Kitt Peak telescopes, plus two other instruments � the Two Micron All Sky Survey (2MASS) and the Infrared Multi-object Spectrometer (IMOS) � to collect infrared observations of the cluster. Objects within the cluster appear about 1 trillion times brighter in infrared than in visible light.

Based on the findings, Figer said, "there are likely more of these clusters (within the Milky Way) and we hope to find them in the next few years."

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Sloan Survey Identifies New Dwarf Galaxy Inside Milky Way
Washington DC (SPX) Jan 10, 2006
Astronomers using the Sloan Digital Sky Survey have discovered a previously unknown cluster of stars within the Milky Way that appears to be a separate dwarf galaxy being consumed by its much larger neighbor.

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