Diamond Pinpricks: Gorgeous Shot Of Star Group That Once Baffled Astronomers

A Hubble Space Telecope picture of globular cluster IC 4499. The new observations showed that it is about 12 billion years old, contrary to previous observations showing a puzzling young age. Credit: European Space Agency and NASA

Is this group of stars belonging to one generation, or more? That’s one of the things that was puzzling astronomers for decades, particularly when they were trying to pin down the age of IC 4499 — the globular cluster you see in this new picture from the Hubble Space Telescope.

While astronomers now know the stars are from a single generation that are about 12 billion years old (see this paper from three years ago), for about 15 years before that at least one paper said IC 4499 was three billion to four billion years younger than that.

“It has long been believed that all the stars within a globular cluster form at the about same time, a property which can be used to determine the cluster’s age,” stated information from the European Space Agency reposted on NASA’s website.

“For more massive globulars however, detailed observations have shown that this is not entirely true — there is evidence that they instead consist of multiple populations of stars born at different times.”

IC 4499 is somewhere in between these extremes, but only has a single generation of stars — its gravity wasn’t quite enough to pull in neighboring gas and dust to create more. Goes to show you how important it is to re-examine the results in science.

Source: NASA and the European Space Agency