A group of astronomers operating a Chile-based ground telescope recently captured an amazing new view of the star cluster dubbed NGC 6604. The cosmic feature, which is oftentimes overlooked in favor of its more famous neighbors, is in fact a sight to behold on its own.
The formation is located right next to Messier 16, a structure also known as the Eagle Nebula. This means that astronomers analyzing this portion of the night sky usually train their telescopes on its neighbor, and not NGC 6604.
But the new study was different. The team used the MPG/ESO 2.2-meter telescope's Wide Field Imager (WFI) instrument to capture this high-resolution view of the star cluster. This observatory is located at La Silla, in Chile, and is operated by the European Southern Observatory (ESO).
One of the most interesting aspects of the new image is its framing. The cluster was centered in the upper-center left of the image, and astronomers zoomed out sufficiently to capture the surrounding areas, which are extremely rich in hydrogen gas.
The area immediately around it is occupied by an associated nebula, called Sh2-54. Additional dust clouds can be seen throughout the image. NGC 6604 is actually a small part of a larger association of stars, which contains as many as 100 blue-white (very young) stars.
“NGC 6604 lies about 5500 light-years away in the constellation of Serpens and is located about two degrees north of the Eagle Nebula in the night sky . The bright stars are easily seen in a small telescope and were first cataloged by William Herschel in 1784,” a press release
from ESO explains.
These new stars are contributing significantly to the formation of an additional generation of stars. They tend to concentrate hydrogen gas and other chemicals necessary for the creation of cosmic fireballs into areas of the cluster that are strongly irradiated, and swept by strong stellar winds.
When the new stars form, they will probably have an extremely high mass, and therefore short lives. They will also end their main sequence by going supernova, an event that will seed heavy chemical elements throughout the cluster.
Planets will then become common around other stars, since heavy elements such as oxygen, carbon and silicon are necessary for the formation of sand grains and planetesimals.