Spiraling stars in the Small Magellanic Cloud are the subject of a recent study in ‘The Astrophysical Journal.’ Find out how their spiral motions help explain the “baby boom” of star formation shortly after the Big Bang.
At this time of the year, I enjoy looking up at the sky toward the constellations Andromeda and Cassiopeia. It’s the ideal time for me to try to spot the Andromeda Galaxy, also known as M31.
It’s the brightest galaxy we can see with the naked eye, and it’s also the closest full galaxy to the Milky Way. Since I live in the Northern Hemisphere, I’ve never had the chance to look at a couple of other easily visible neighbouring galaxies called the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds.
Astronomers classify the Magellanic Clouds as irregular dwarf galaxies, and they’re only visible south of Earth’s equator. Both Magellanic Clouds orbit our Milky Way galaxy as part of the same local group of galaxies that includes Andromeda.
Spiraling Stars in the Small Magellanic Cloud
Fortunately, the Hubble Space Telescope and the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope don’t have my limitations. This week, The Astrophysical Journal published some of their observations regarding spiraling stars in the Small Magellanic Cloud.
The Small Magellanic Cloud has simpler chemistry than the Milky Way. It’s more like galaxies in the early universe when the heavier chemical elements were still relatively rare.
So, the Small Magellanic Cloud is nearby, bright and chemically simple. These characteristics make it an easy-to-study proxy to learn about the “baby boom” of star formation that happened 2 to 3 billion years after the universe began.
Moving Inward Toward Star Cluster’s Centre
Astronomers aimed the Hubble at the Small Magellanic Cloud to study a star cluster called NGC 346. Within NGC 346, researchers can see a series of spiraling stars slowly moving inward toward the cluster’s centre.