It took more than 200 years to find out, but a globular cluster discovered in 1778 by comet-hunter Charles Messier turned out to be the first such star swarm located outside the Milky Way. As astronomers discovered in 1994, the cluster, known as M54 in Messier’s famous catalogue, is actually located some 90,000 light years away in the Sagittarius Dwarf Elliptical Galaxy, about three times farther than Earth is from the center of the Milky Way. But if you wait a while – a very long while – M54 will become part of Earth’s galaxy as the Sagittarius dwarf slowly merges with the larger body. This photograph of M54 was taken in 2011 by the Hubble Space Telescope’s Advanced Camera for Surveys.
The eerie glow of a dead star, which exploded long ago as a supernova, reveals itself in this NASA Hubble Space Telescope image of the Crab Nebula in the constellation of Taurus. But don’t be fooled. The ghoulish-looking object still has a pulse. Buried at its centre is the star’s telltale heart — a neutron star which beats with rhythmic precision.
When our galaxy was born, around 13,000 million years ago, a plethora of clusters containing millions of stars emerged. But over time, they have been disappearing. However, hidden behind younger stars that formed later, some old and dying star clusters remain, such as the so-called E 3. European astronomers have now studied this testimony to the beginnings of our galaxy.