Our galaxy is surrounded by a host of cosmic neighbors, one of the closest ones being the Large Magellanic Cloud, notes Universe Today.
The Milky Way is 100,000 light-years wide and is part of a vast collection of 54 galaxies and dwarf galaxies, collectively known as the Local Group. This galactic huddle, which is shaped like a dumbbell and stretches some 10 million light-years in diameter, is a smaller component of the colossal Virgo Supercluster — one of the largest structures in the universe, measuring 110 million light-years across, the Inquisitr previously reported.
While our galactic neighborhood is undoubtedly grand and crowded, the smaller galaxies that closely orbit the Milky Way are just as intriguing as the far-flung major galaxies that surround us. For instance, astronomers have only recently began studying the ancient star formations in nearby dwarf galaxies, reports the Hubble Space Telescope website, which today unveiled a stunning photo of a star cluster in the Large Magellanic Cloud.
According to Futurism, the Large Magellanic Cloud is the third closest galaxy to our own -- and the fourth largest inhabitant of the Local Group, after the Andromeda galaxy, the Milky Way, and the Triangulum Galaxy.
This satellite galaxy of the Milky Way "hosts an extremely rich population of star clusters, making it an ideal laboratory for investigating star formation," explains the Hubble website.
The oldest of these star clusters are called globular clusters, and date back to the earliest days of the universe. These archaic collections of stars are bound together by gravity in a spherical shape -- hence their name -- and represent the first stellar systems to be created after the Big Bang.
The newly released Hubble photo depicts one such globular cluster, dubbed NGC 1898, nestled toward the center of the Large Magellanic Cloud. Captured by Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) and Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3), the image showcases a dazzling sight of "celestial fairy lights," portraying the globular cluster in all of its majesty.
Described as a "glittering ball of stars," the NGC 1898 globular cluster lies 170,000 light-years away in the Dorado constellation -- "The Swordfish". While this is not the first time that Hubble has set its sights on this particular star cluster — in fact, in the two centuries since its discovery, "NGC 1898 has been scrutinized numerous times by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope," shows the website — examining it in greater detail could reveal more clues about the characteristics of globular clusters found outside of our galactic borders.
"The observations of NGC 1898 will help to determine if their properties are similar to the ones found in the Milky Way, or if they have different features, due to being in a different cosmic environment," explains the Hubble website.Our galaxy is home to less than 200 globular clusters, five of which have only been recently discovered near the Milky Way's galactic center, the Inquisitr reported in early July.
Imaged here in the optical, infrared, and ultraviolet wavelengths, NGC 1898 could help astronomers unlock the mysteries of distant globular clusters and to learn even more about those closer to home, leading to a better understanding of these still-enigmatic stellar bundles — "relics of the first epochs of galaxy formation."