Globular cluster

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A globular cluster is a spherical collection of stars that orbits a galactic core as a satellite. Globular clusters are very tightly bound by gravity, which gives them their spherical shapes and relatively high stellar densities toward their centers. The name of this category of star cluster is derived from the Latin globulus—a small sphere. A globular cluster is sometimes known more simply as a globular.

Globular clusters, which are found in the halo of a galaxy, contain considerably more stars and are much older than the less dense galactic, or open clusters, which are found in the disk. Globular clusters are fairly common; there are about 150[2] to 158[3] currently known globular clusters in the Milky Way, with perhaps 10 to 20 more still undiscovered.[4] Large galaxies can have more: Andromeda, for instance, may have as many as 500.[5] Some giant elliptical galaxies, particularly those at the centers of galaxy clusters, such as M87,[6] have as many as 13,000 globular clusters. These globular clusters orbit the galaxy out to large radii, 40 kiloparsecs (approximately 131,000 light-years) or more.[7]

Every galaxy of sufficient mass in the Local Group has an associated group of globular clusters, and almost every large galaxy surveyed has been found to possess a system of globular clusters.[8] The Sagittarius Dwarf and Canis Major Dwarf galaxies appear to be in the process of donating their associated globular clusters (such as Palomar 12) to the Milky Way.[9] This demonstrates how many of this galaxy's globular clusters might have been acquired in the past.

Although it appears that globular clusters contain some of the first stars to be produced in the galaxy, their origins and their role in galactic evolution are still unclear. It does appear clear that globular clusters are significantly different from dwarf elliptical galaxies and were formed as part of the star formation of the parent galaxy rather than as a separate galaxy.[10] However, recent conjectures by astronomers suggest that globular clusters and dwarf spheroidals may not be clearly separate and distinct types of objects.[11]


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