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The image reveals a small region inside the massive globular cluster Omega Centauri, which boasts nearly 10 million stars. Globular clusters, ancient swarms of stars united by gravity, are the homesteaders of our Milky Way galaxy. The stars in Omega Centauri are between 10 billion and 12 billion years old. The cluster lies about 16,000 light-years from Earth.
This is one of the first images taken by the new Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3), installed aboard Hubble in May 2009, during Servicing Mission 4. The photograph showcases the camera's color versatility by revealing a variety of stars in key stages of their life cycles.
The majority of the stars in the image are yellow-white, like our Sun. These are adult stars that are shining by hydrogen fusion. Toward the end of their normal lives, the stars become cooler and larger. These late-life stars are the orange dots in the image. Other stars that appear in the image are so-called "blue stragglers." They are older stars that acquire a new lease on life when they collide and merge with other stars. The encounters boost the stars' energy-production rate, making them appear bluer.
Omega Centauri is among the biggest and most massive of some 200 globular clusters orbiting the Milky Way. It is one of the few globular clusters that can be seen with the unaided eye. Named by Johann Bayer in 1603 as the 24th brightest object in the constellation Centaurus, it resembles a small cloud in the southern sky and might easily be mistaken for a comet.
Hubble observed Omega Centauri on July 15, 2009, in ultraviolet and visible light. These Hubble observations of Omega Centauri are part of the Hubble Servicing Mission 4 Early Release Observations. Learn more at HubbleSite's NewsCenter.