Image of the Month: 300,000 stars at once!

Globular clusters, tightly packed masses of stars are dazzling celestial spectacles as shown by this new European Southern Observatory image.

Image of Omega centauri

"My God, its full of stars!"(Image credit: ESO/INAF-VST/OmegaCAM. Acknowledgement: A. Grado/INAF-Capodimonte Observatory)

This dramatic image depicts Omega Centauri, one of 200 or so globular clusters orbiting our Milky Way galaxy. This is among the first images taken by the VLT Survey Telescope (VST), the latest telescope to be added to the European Southern Observatory’s Paranal Observatory in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. The VST is the largest telescope in the world designed to exclusively survey the sky in visible light.

Swarms of tightly packed stars, numbering in the thousands to low millions, globular clusters are cosmic fossils, relics of the early times of our galaxy. Omega Centauri may actually be the core of a smaller galaxy ripped apart and assimilated by our own Milky Way in the distant past. It is about 16 000 light years from our Sun and can be seen with the naked eye from the southern hemisphere.

Full of dim red dwarfs, globular clusters are among the oldest objects in the Universe. The stars in these clusters are very near each other, perhaps separated not by light years but by mere light months. Planets orbiting them would have glorious night skies; in fact even at night it would never be dark. Imagine that!