Click on the image for full resolution (12 MB)
This bright cluster of stars is 47 Tucanae (NGC 104), shown here in an image taken by ESO's VISTA (Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy) from the Paranal Observatory in Chile. This cluster is located around 15 000 light-years away from us and contains millions of stars, some of which are unusual and exotic. This image was taken as part of the VISTA Magellanic Cloud survey, a project that is scanning the region of the Magellanic Clouds, two small galaxies that are very close to our Milky Way. 47 Tucanae orbits our Milky Way Galaxy. At about 120 light-years across it is so large that, despite its distance, it looks about as big as the full Moon. Hosting millions of stars, it is one of the brightest and most massive globular clusters known and is visible to the naked eye. In amongst the swirling mass of stars at its heart lie many intriguing systems, including X-ray sources, variable stars, vampire stars, unexpectedly bright "normal" stars known as blue stragglers, and tiny objects known as millisecond pulsars, small dead stars that rotate astonishingly quickly. Red giants, stars that have exhausted the fuel in their cores and swollen in size, are scattered across this VISTA image and are easy to pick out, glowing a deep amber against the bright white-yellow background stars. The densely packed core is contrasted against the more sparse outer regions of the cluster, and in the background huge numbers of stars in the Small Magellanic Cloud are visible.
The full resolution image weighs 12 MB, so please be patient when downloading!
Image Credit: ESO/M.-R. Cioni/VISTA Magellanic Cloud survey
Acknowledgment: Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit
Image enhancement: Jean-Baptiste Faure