Most stars don’t form alone, but are created with many others at about the same time from a single cloud of gas and dust.
NGC 3572, in the southern constellation of Carina (The Keel), is one of these clusters. It contains many hot young blue-white stars that shine brightly and generate powerful stellar winds that gradually disperse the remaining gas and dust.
You can see the glowing gas clouds and accompanying cluster of stars in this new picture from the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile.
The zoom sequence below starts with a broad panorama of the southern sky and closes in on the region of star formation centered on the cluster NGC 3572.
These gangs of young stars stick together for a relatively short time, typically tens or hundreds of millions of years. They are gradually disbanded by gravitational interactions, but also because the most massive stars are short-lived, burning through their fuel quickly and ultimately ending their lives in violent supernova explosions, thus contributing to the dispersion of the remaining gas and stars in the cluster.
Stars born inside a cluster have almost the same age, but differ in size, mass, temperature, and color. The lifetime of a star depends greatly on how big it is when it is born. A star fifty times more massive than the sun will have a life of only a few million years, compared to the sun, which will live for about ten billion years. Stars much smaller than the sun can live for trillions of years—much longer than the current age of our universe.
Eleanor Imster has helped write and edit EarthSky since 1995. She was an integral part of the award-winning EarthSky radio series almost since it began until it ended in 2013. Today, as Lead Editor at EarthSky.org, she helps present the science and nature stories and photos you enjoy. She also serves as one of the voices of EarthSky on social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and G+. She and her husband live in Tennessee and have two grown sons.