Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Stellar family in crowded, violent neighbourhood proves to be surprisingly normal

Using ESO’s Very Large Telescope, astronomers have obtained one of the sharpest views ever of the Arches Cluster — an extraordinary dense cluster of young stars near the supermassive black hole at the heart of the Milky Way.

Despite the extreme conditions astronomers were surprised to find the same proportions of low- and high-mass young stars in the cluster as are found in more tranquil locations in our Milky Way.

The massive Arches Cluster is a rather peculiar star cluster. It is located 25 000 light-years away towards the constellation of Sagittarius (the Archer), and contains about a thousand young, massive stars, less than 2.5 million years old [1]. It is an ideal laboratory to study how massive stars are born in extreme conditions as it is close to the centre of our Milky Way, where it experiences huge opposing forces from the stars, gas and the supermassive black hole that reside there. The Arches Cluster is ten times heavier than typical young star clusters scattered throughout our Milky Way and is enriched with chemical elements heavier than helium.

Using the NACO adaptive optics instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope, located in Chile, astronomers scrutinised the cluster in detail. Thanks to adaptive optics, astronomers can remove most of the blurring effect of the atmosphere, and so the new NACO images of the Arches Cluster are even crisper than those obtained with telescopes in space. Observing the Arches Cluster is very challenging because of the huge quantities of absorbing dust between Earth and the Galactic Centre, which visible light cannot penetrate. This is why NACO was used to observe the region in near-infrared light.

The new study confirms the Arches Cluster to be the densest cluster of massive young stars known. It is about three light-years across with more than a thousand stars packed into each cubic light-year — an extreme density a million times greater than in the Sun’s neighbourhood.

Astronomers studying clusters of stars have found that higher mass stars are rarer than their less massive brethren, and their relative numbers are the same everywhere, following a universal law. For many years, the Arches Cluster seemed to be a striking exception.

“With the extreme conditions in the Arches Cluster, one might indeed imagine that stars won’t form in the same way as in our quiet solar neighbourhood,” says Pablo Espinoza, the lead author of the paper reporting the new results. “However, our new observations showed that the masses of stars in this cluster actually do follow the same universal law”.

In this image the astronomers could also study the brightest stars in the cluster. “The most massive star we found has a mass of about 120 times that of the Sun,” says co-author Fernando Selman. “We conclude from this that if stars more massive than 130 solar masses exist, they must live for less than 2.5 million years and end their lives without exploding as supernovae, as massive stars usually do.”

The total mass of the cluster seems to be about 30 000 times that of the Sun, much more than was previously thought. “That we can see so much more is due to the exquisite NACO images,” says co-author Jorge Melnick.

[1] The name “Arches” does not come from the constellation the cluster is located in (Sagittarius, i.e., the Archer), but because it is located next to arched filaments detected in radio maps of the centre of the Milky Way.

More Information
This research was presented in a paper to appear in Astronomy and Astrophysics (The massive star Initial Mass Function of the Arches Cluster, by P. Espinoza et al.). The team is composed of Pablo Espinoza (Steward Observatory, University of Arizona, USA), Fernando Selman and Jorge Melnick (ESO). P. Espinoza was working on this as an undergraduate student at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile.

ESO, the European Southern Observatory, is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe. It is supported by 14 countries: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in the Atacama Desert region of Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor.

Fernando Selman and Jorge Melnick
Phone: +56 55 43 5311, +56 2 463 3168, +49 89 3200 6297
E-mail: fselman (at), jmelnick (at)
Pablo Espinoza
Steward Observatory, University of Arizona, USA
Phone: +56 9 84192504
E-mail: pespinoza (at)

Dr. Henri Boffin | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht First results of NSTX-U research operations
26.10.2016 | DOE/Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

nachricht Scientists discover particles similar to Majorana fermions
25.10.2016 | Chinese Academy of Sciences Headquarters

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

How a fungus inhibits the immune system of plants

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Mitochondria control stem cell fate

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

The gene of autumn colours

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>