This image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope captures a small portion of the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC). The SMC is a dwarf galaxy and one of the Milky Way’s nearest neighbors, lying only about 200,000 light-years from Earth. It makes a pair with the Large Magellanic Cloud, and both objects are best seen from the Southern Hemisphere, but are visible from some northern latitudes as well.
The Small Magellanic Cloud contains hundreds of millions of stars, but this image focuses on just a small fraction of them. These stars comprise the open cluster NGC 376, which has a total mass only about 3,400 times that of the Sun. Open clusters, as the name suggests, are loosely bound and sparsely populated. This distinguishes open clusters from globular clusters, which generally appear as a continuous blur of starlight at their centers because they are so crammed with stars. In the case of NGC 376, individual stars are clearly discernable even in the most densely populated parts of this image.
The data in this image come from two different astronomical investigations which relied on two of Hubble’s instruments: the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) and the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS). The first investigation used the ACS to explore a handful of star clusters in the Small Magellanic Cloud and helped astronomers explore topics including the abundance of low- and high-mass stars in different environments. The second investigation used both the WFC3 and ACS, and aimed to answer fundamental questions about the lives of stars and help astronomers understand precisely where, when, why, and how stars form.
Text credit: European Space Agency (ESA)
Image credit: ESA/Hubble and NASA, A. Nota, G. De Marchi