Using the Hubble Space Telescope researchers have conducted a pioneering 3-year study of the massive dense young star cluster Westerlund 2. In the process, discovering that dense clouds of relatively cool dust are curiously absent from material around the stars at the cluster’s heart.

NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image of the cluster Westerlund 2 The image’s central region, containing the star cluster, blends visible-light data taken by the Advanced Camera for Surveys and near-infrared exposures taken by the Wide Field Camera 3. The surrounding region is composed of visible-light observations taken by the Advanced Camera for Surveys. (NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), A. Nota (ESA/STScI), and the Westerlund 2 Science Team)

These rare systems are for us gold mines to test our understanding of how stars were forming in the early universe.

[Read: What this massive rotating disk galaxy tells us about our early universe]

Studying how variable stars change over time

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“In this sense, Westerlund 2 offers us a unique glimpse of how stars form under conditions that resemble those found when the universe was much younger.”

When it comes to planet formation, it’s all about location

“The energy released by the massive stars can change the chemical composition or even the destroy the grains of dust in the disks of their smaller neighbours, inhibiting the formation of future planets.”

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“Therefore in Westerlund 2 we can compare how being born near or far from massive stars can affect the properties and the evolution of smaller objects.”

The future is clear

Left: A diagram of the Hubble Wide Field Camera and (right) an image of the instrument taken during its testing stages. (NASA)

There is the fun of collecting and deciphering all the clues to try to answer the question of how do stars and planet form? This makes for a great day’s work.

This article was originally published on The Cosmic Companion by Robert Lea. You can read this original piece here.

Astronomy News with The Cosmic Companion is also available as a weekly podcast, carried on all major podcast providers. Tune in every Tuesday for updates on the latest astronomy news, and interviews with astronomers and other researchers working to uncover the nature of the Universe.

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