Credit: NASA/GSFC/M.Corcoran et al.

Where the Stars Are

Massive stars are gregarious from birth. The tend to form in tight groups called star clusters or OB associations. These massive stars forming regions are often called starbursts since the formation of these stars is so rapid and so violent. Such regions are rare in the Milky Way, though they act as agents of change in the Galaxy in a number of ways: strong winds from the massive stars blow out into the Galaxy and re-arrange the interstellar gas and dust; the high energy radiation from the stars heats the Galaxy; and finally these stars will explode as supernova, violently disrupting their neighborhoods (but maybe triggering another starburst somewhere else). The false-color image above is a Chandra X-ray image of NGC 3603, one of the regions of the Milky Way where dozens of extremely massive stars were born in a burst of star formation about 2 million years ago. The dots in the picture represent X-ray bright stars, some of which are known massive stars, and many of which are as yet unidentified. The image shows the X-ray intensity, where green is faint, red is brighter, and blue-white is brightest. The number of X-ray stars increases dramatically near the center of NGC 3603 at the center of the image. The image above right shows a zoomed image of the central part of the cluster. The "white" star at the center is the brightest X-ray emitting object in the field is probably a binary in which the X-rays are produced when the powerful wind from one of the stars collides with the wind from the other in between the two stars. For comparison, the other X-ray bright "star" in the center to the right of the brightest object, is actually composed of the emission of 4 stars packed so tightly they appear as one to Chandra.

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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified February 10, 2001