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Diamonds in the sky

NASA / ESA / MPIA
The Hubble Space Telescope focuses on the star-forming association LH 95

in the Large Magellanic Cloud, one of our Milky Way's satellite galaxies.

The smaller children can find it difficult to stand out in any family, and that goes for galaxies as well as earthly clans. This picture from the Hubble Space Telescope, showing a star-forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud, finally gives the little kids their due.

Pictures taken by ground-based telescopes could turn up only the giant stars seen in this picture of the star-forming association LH 95, which is 180,000 light-years away in our Milky Way's largest satellite galaxy. The giant stars are at least three times the mass of our own sun, but there are also hundreds of less massive infant stars that went undetected until Hubble spotted them.

By analyzing the light from those lesser stars, astronomers can produce a more accruate calculation of stellar ages and masses, according to today's image advisory from the Hubble European Space Agency Information Center. Because the Large Magellanic Cloud is a galaxy with small amounts of elements other than hydrogen, studying regions such as LH 95 provides insights into how stars are formed in environments different from the Milky Way.

"Hubble's sharp vision has over the years dramatically changed the picture that we had for stellar associations in the Magellanic Clouds," said Dimitrios Gouliermis of the Max-Planck Institut for Astronomy, who leads the international team studying the Hubble observations.

The dark blue haze in the picture is part of a nebula of glowing hydrogen pushing its way through LH 95's molecular cloud. Parts of the cloud have contracted to give birth to the low-mass stars, which have a strong tendency to cluster. Two of those clusters can be seen in the picture - one to the right, above the center of the picture, and one to the far left.

If you follow the links from this Web page to larger versions of the picture, you can also make out a variety of spiral and elliptical galaxies in the background. Think of it as a cosmic version of the "Where's Waldo" game.

Today's photo was released to coincide with a presentation at the International Astronomical Union's General Assembly in Prague this week.