Star cluster

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Star clusters or star clouds are groups of stars. Two types of star clusters can be distinguished: globular clusters are tight groups of hundreds of thousands of very old stars which are gravitationally bound, while open clusters, a more loosely clustered group of stars, generally contain less than a few hundred members, and are often very young. Open clusters become disrupted over time by the gravitational influence of giant molecular clouds as they move through the galaxy, but cluster members will continue to move in broadly the same direction through space even though they are no longer gravitationally bound; they are then known as a stellar association, sometimes also referred to as a moving group.

Star clusters visible to the naked eye include Pleiades, Hyades and the Beehive Cluster.


Globular Cluster

Globular clusters, or GC, are roughly spherical groupings of from 10,000 to several million stars packed into regions of from 10 to 30 light years across. They commonly consist of very old Population II stars—just a few hundred million years younger than the universe itself—which are mostly yellow and red, weighing a bit less than two solar masses. Such stars predominate within clusters because hotter and more massive stars have exploded as supernovae, or evolved through planetary nebula phases to end as white dwarfs. Yet a few rare blue stars exist in globulars, thought to be formed by stellar mergers in their dense inner regions; these stars are known as blue stragglers.

In our galaxy, globular clusters are distributed roughly spherically in the galactic halo, around the galactic centre, orbiting the centre in highly elliptical orbits. In 1917, the astronomer Harlow Shapley was able to estimate the Sun's distance from the galactic centre based on the distribution of globular clusters; previously the Sun's location within the Milky Way was by no means well established.

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