January 13, 2005
Hubble astronomers have uncovered, for the first time, a population of infant stars in the Milky Way satellite galaxy, the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC, visible to the naked eye in the southern constellation Tucana), located 210,000 light-years away. Hubble's exquisite sharpness plucked out an underlying population of infant stars embedded in the nebula NGC 346 that are still forming from gravitationally collapsing gas clouds. They have not yet ignited their hydrogen fuel to sustain nuclear fusion. The smallest of these infant stars is only half the mass of our Sun. Although star birth is common within the disk of our galaxy, this smaller companion galaxy is more primeval in that it lacks a large percentage of the heavier elements that are forged in successive generations of stars through nuclear fusion.
Topics: Magellanic Clouds, Peculiar galaxies, Local Group, Human Interest, Stars Hubble, NGC 346, Stellar astronomy, NGC, Small Magellanic Cloud, Nebula, Star, Galaxy, Milky Way, Spiral galaxies