The Globular Cluster M80

From the Hubble Space Telescope
M80 is one of the densest of the 147 known globular star clusters in our Milky Way galaxy. Located about 28,000 light-years from Earth, M80 contains hundreds of thousands of stars, held together by their mutual gravitational attraction. Globular clusters are particularly useful for studying stellar evolution, since all of their stars have the same age (about 15 billion years), but cover a range of stellar masses. Every star seen in this image is either more highly evolved than, or in a few rare cases more massive than, our own Sun. Especially obvious are the bright red giants that are nearing the ends of their lives.
By analyzing the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) images, astronomers have found a large population of "blue stragglers" in the core of the cluster. These stars appear to be unusually young and more massive than the other stars in a globular cluster. Stellar collisions can occur in dense stellar regions like the core of M80 and, in some cases, the collisions can result in the merger of two stars. This produces an unusually massive single star, which mimics a normal, young star. M80 was previously unknown to contain blue stragglers, but is now known to contain more than twice as many as any other globular cluster surveyed with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope (HST). The number of blue stragglers suggests the stellar collision rate in the core of M80 is exceptionally high.
M80 is also unusual as it was the site of a nova explosion in the year 1860. Nova outbursts occur when a close companion star transfers fresh hydrogen fuel to a burned-out white dwarf. Eventually the hydrogen ignites a thermonuclear explosion on the surface of the white dwarf, giving rise to the nova outburst. The ultraviolet Hubble observations have revealed the hot, faint remnant of this exploding star, T Scorpii. Further, the WFPC2 observations have show only two other nova-like close binary stars in M80, far fewer than expected theoretically based on the stellar collision rate. Hence the blue stragglers seem to indicate that there are lots of collisions, yet the nova-like stars suggest only a few.
Image Title: The Globular Cluster M80
based on press release for PHOTO NO.: STScI-PRC99-26

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 Last Modified On: Sunday, December 17, 2000