Hubble Spots Monster Star Cluster

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has captured this vivid image of Westerlund 1, a young super star cluster.

This image, taken with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3, shows the super star cluster Westerlund 1. Image credit: NASA / ESA / Hubble.

Westerlund 1 is a so-called super star cluster — a very massive young open cluster that is thought to be the precursor of a globular cluster.
This cluster was discovered in 2005 by astronomers using telescopes at the European Southern Observatory.
Also known as Ara Cluster and ESO 277-12, Westerlund 1 is located approximately 15,000 light-years from Earth in the southern constellation of Ara.
It is made up of around 200,000 stars and is estimated to be relatively young in astronomical terms — somewhere between 4 or 5 million years old.
While studying and classifying the cluster’s constituent stars, scientists discovered that Westerlund 1 is home to one of the largest stars ever discovered, Westerlund 1-26 (W26).
W26 is a red supergiant — although sometimes classified as a hypergiant — with a radius over 1,500 times that of our Sun.
If this giant star was placed where our Sun is in the Solar System, it would extend out beyond the orbit of Jupiter.
Known formally as 2MASS J16470540-4550367, W26 is also one of the most luminous red supergiants known.
Most of the cluster’s stars are thought to have formed in the same burst of activity, meaning that they have similar ages and compositions.
Since Westerlund 1 contains so many massive stars, it is estimated than in a time span of approximately 40 million years, it will be the site of more than a thousand supernovae.
The color image of Westerlund 1 was made from separate exposures taken in the visible and infrared regions of the spectrum with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3).
It is based on data obtained through three filters. The color results from assigning different hues to each monochromatic image associated with an individual filter.

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