ngc 6520

NGC 6520

About 190 million years ago, a dust cloud coalesced and began the process of star birth. Today, NGC 6520 is ablaze with hot, massive young stars arranged in a dandelion seed-shaped cluster. Not far away lie the gecko-shaped remains of what may be their birth cloud, Barnard 86. Both are set against a glittering gold-toned backdrop of stars that are far more distant and populate parts of the inner regions and bulge of our Galaxy.

Credit: Gemini Observatory

This image from the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile, shows the bright star cluster NGC 6520 and its neighbour, the strangely shaped dark cloud Barnard 86. This cosmic pair is set against millions of glowing stars from the brightest part of the Milky Way — a region so dense with stars that barely any dark sky is seen across the picture.

Credit: ESO

A drop of ink on the luminous sky

This image shows the bright star cluster NGC 6520 and its neighbour, the strange gecko-shaped dark cloud Barnard 86. This cosmic pair is set against millions of glowing stars from the brightest part of the Milky Way — a region so dense with stars that barely any dark sky is seen across the picture.

This part of the constellation of Sagittarius (The Archer) is one of the richest star fields in the whole sky — the Large Sagittarius Star Cloud. The huge number of stars that light up this region dramatically emphasise the blackness of dark clouds like Barnard 86, which appears at the centre of this new picture.

Through a small telescope Barnard 86 looks like a dearth of stars, or a window onto a patch of distant, clearer sky. However, this object is actually in the foreground of the star field — a cold, dark, dense cloud made up of small dust grains that block starlight and make the region appear opaque. It is thought to have formed from the remnants of a molecular cloud that collapsed to form the nearby star cluster NGC 6520, seen just to the left of Barnard 86 in this image.

NGC 6520 is an open star cluster that contains many hot stars that glow bright blue-white, a telltale sign of their youth. Open clusters usually contain a few thousand stars that all formed at the same time, giving them all the same age. Such clusters usually only live comparatively short lives, on the order of several hundred million years, before drifting apart.

Image credit: ESO