The Starry Sting of a Stellar Scorpion

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Scorpions can deliver a nasty sting, but in the tail of this cosmic arachnid there’s a cluster of glittering jewels: the hundred-or-so stars of the Messier 7 cluster, located 800 light-years away in the constellation Scorpio.

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This image, taken by the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-meter telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile, shows Messier 7′s stars — the brightest of which are easily visible with the naked eye.

Fainter stars in the 25 light-year-wide cluster are also visible, as are much more distant stars filling a rich stellar backdrop. The darker regions in the background are clouds of cold interstellar dust — possibly similar to the cloud in which these stars were born, but only coincidentally sharing the same space today.

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Messier 7 — also known as NGC 6475 — is an important research subject for astronomers as its stars all formed at pretty much the same time, making for a great “control group” for studies of stellar evolution.

Eventually the hottest, brightest ten stars in this image will end their lives in violent supernovas, seeding the galaxy with heavy elements forged in their cores.

Source: ESO