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Hubble Telescope Spots Thousands of 'Orphaned' Star Clusters Drifting Between Galaxies



 Hubble Telescope Spots Thousands of 'Orphaned' Star Clusters Drifting Between Galaxies

A Hubble Space Telescope image shows a portion of the Coma Cluster, located in a cluster of 300 million light-years from Earth.

Credit: NASA / ESA / J. Mack / STScI) / J. Madrid / Australian Telescope National Facility

An enormous cosmic neighborhood that's home to more than 1

,000 gravitationally bound galactic neighbors is bursting with thousands of stray star clusters, images from the Hubble Space Telescope have revealed.

While conducting a comprehensive survey of the Coma Cluster of galaxies, astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope counted 22,426 globular star clusters scattered throughout the space between those galaxies. Each of those dense, spherical groups contains hundreds of thousands of old stars that huddle together because of their mutual gravitational attraction.

Located more than 300 million light-years from Earth in the constellation of Coma Berenices, the Coma Cluster is one of the first places where it appears in its visible surroundings. [Gallery: Dark Matter Throughout the Universe]

"Because globular clusters are much smaller than entire galaxies – and much more abundant – they are a much better tracer of how the fabric of space is distorted by the Coma cluster's gravity," NASA official said in a statement.

Astronomers think they were clusters galaxies in the Coma cluster but were "orphaned from their home galaxy due to galaxy near collisions inside the traffic jammed cluster," NASA official said. Hubble imagery has come up with "bridge-like patterns," which NASA officials said is "telltale evidence for between galaxies where they gravitationally tug on each other like pulling taffy."

Astronomers have Since then, when the Hubble Space Telescope began collecting data for the Coma Cluster Treasury Survey using an Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS). But that project was put on hold when the ACS suffered an electronics failure and went into the safe later this year. Astronauts ended up repairing the camera during the STS-125 Hubble servicing mission in 2009.

In the wake of the ACS data they were initially counted on, a team of astronomers led by Juan Madrid of the Australian Telescope National Facility in Sydney came up with a workaround to fill in the gaps. Hubble observing programs "to stitch together a mosaic of the cluster cluster central region, NASA official said."

NASA's planned Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) has a much larger Hubble field of view, "Madrid said in the statement.

Their entire census of the Coma Cluster was published Nov. 9 in The Astrophysical Journal.

Email Hanneke Weitering at hweitering@space.com or follow her @hannekescience . Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook. Original article on Space.com.


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