A favourite target for amateur astronomers, the Wild Duck Cluster, also known as Messier 11 and, more formally NGC 6705, is a stunning sight in even small telescopes with its brightest stars forming a “V” shape reminiscent of a flock of ducks. Located in the constellation Scutum, the cluster is about 6,200 light years from Earth and contains nearly 3,000 stars, making it one of the richest and most compact open clusters known. It was discovered in 1681 and included in comet-hunter Charles Messier’s famous catalogue in 1764. This view from the Hubble Space Telescope was chosen as “Picture of the Week” at the European Space Agency’s Hubble site.
With a view 100 times bigger than that of the Hubble Space Telescope, NASA’s Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) will aid researchers in their efforts to unravel the secrets of dark energy and dark matter, and explore the evolution of the cosmos. It also will discover new worlds outside our solar system and advance the search for worlds that could be suitable for life.
It is known today that merging galaxies play a large role in their evolution, and the formation of elliptical galaxies in particular. However, there are only a few merging systems close enough to be observed in depth. The pair of interacting galaxies seen here — known as NGC 3921 — is one of these systems. But ‘close’ is a relative term: NGC 3921 lies 270 million light-years away.
Astronomers using the unique ultraviolet capabilities of the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have identified nine monster stars with masses over 100 times the mass of the Sun in the star cluster R136, located in the Tarantula Nebula within the Large Magellanic Cloud. This makes it the largest sample of very massive stars identified to date.