When stars like the Sun grow old, after burning through their initial supply of hydrogen fuel, nuclear fusion grinds to a halt, their cores shrink and their outer atmospheres balloon outward, a process that turns the a main sequence star into a red giant. Increased pressure in the deep interior can cause hydrogen to begin fusing in a shell around the core, generating intense radiation that illuminates expanding shells of gas that were blown away earlier. Objects such as this one, NGC 2022 in the constellation of Orion, are known as planetary nebulae because their compact appearances made them look a bit like planets in early telescopes. In this view from the Hubble Space Telescope, the compact remnant of the original star is visible at the center of surrounding shells of gas that once formed its outer layers. When fusion completely stops, only a slowly cooling, Earth-size white dwarf will be left to mark the spot where a main sequence star once shined.
Globular clusters offer some of the most spectacular sights in the night sky. These ornate spheres contain hundreds of thousands of stars, and reside in the outskirts of galaxies. The Milky Way contains over 150 such clusters — and the example shown in this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image, named NGC 362, is one of the most unusual ones.
Galaxy clusters are enormous collections of hundreds or even thousands of galaxies and vast reservoirs of hot gas embedded in massive clouds of dark matter. To learn more about clusters, including how they grow via collisions, astronomers have used some of the world’s most powerful X-ray, optical and radio telescopes. The name for this galaxy cluster project is the “Frontier Fields”.