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Astronomy

22.2 Star Clusters

Astronomy22.2 Star Clusters
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  1. Preface
  2. 1 Science and the Universe: A Brief Tour
    1. Introduction
    2. 1.1 The Nature of Astronomy
    3. 1.2 The Nature of Science
    4. 1.3 The Laws of Nature
    5. 1.4 Numbers in Astronomy
    6. 1.5 Consequences of Light Travel Time
    7. 1.6 A Tour of the Universe
    8. 1.7 The Universe on the Large Scale
    9. 1.8 The Universe of the Very Small
    10. 1.9 A Conclusion and a Beginning
    11. For Further Exploration
  3. 2 Observing the Sky: The Birth of Astronomy
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 2.1 The Sky Above
    3. 2.2 Ancient Astronomy
    4. 2.3 Astrology and Astronomy
    5. 2.4 The Birth of Modern Astronomy
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  4. 3 Orbits and Gravity
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 3.1 The Laws of Planetary Motion
    3. 3.2 Newton’s Great Synthesis
    4. 3.3 Newton’s Universal Law of Gravitation
    5. 3.4 Orbits in the Solar System
    6. 3.5 Motions of Satellites and Spacecraft
    7. 3.6 Gravity with More Than Two Bodies
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  5. 4 Earth, Moon, and Sky
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 4.1 Earth and Sky
    3. 4.2 The Seasons
    4. 4.3 Keeping Time
    5. 4.4 The Calendar
    6. 4.5 Phases and Motions of the Moon
    7. 4.6 Ocean Tides and the Moon
    8. 4.7 Eclipses of the Sun and Moon
    9. Key Terms
    10. Summary
    11. For Further Exploration
    12. Collaborative Group Activities
    13. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  6. 5 Radiation and Spectra
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 5.1 The Behavior of Light
    3. 5.2 The Electromagnetic Spectrum
    4. 5.3 Spectroscopy in Astronomy
    5. 5.4 The Structure of the Atom
    6. 5.5 Formation of Spectral Lines
    7. 5.6 The Doppler Effect
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  7. 6 Astronomical Instruments
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 6.1 Telescopes
    3. 6.2 Telescopes Today
    4. 6.3 Visible-Light Detectors and Instruments
    5. 6.4 Radio Telescopes
    6. 6.5 Observations outside Earth’s Atmosphere
    7. 6.6 The Future of Large Telescopes
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  8. 7 Other Worlds: An Introduction to the Solar System
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 7.1 Overview of Our Planetary System
    3. 7.2 Composition and Structure of Planets
    4. 7.3 Dating Planetary Surfaces
    5. 7.4 Origin of the Solar System
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  9. 8 Earth as a Planet
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 8.1 The Global Perspective
    3. 8.2 Earth’s Crust
    4. 8.3 Earth’s Atmosphere
    5. 8.4 Life, Chemical Evolution, and Climate Change
    6. 8.5 Cosmic Influences on the Evolution of Earth
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. For Further Exploration
    10. Collaborative Group Activities
    11. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  10. 9 Cratered Worlds
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 9.1 General Properties of the Moon
    3. 9.2 The Lunar Surface
    4. 9.3 Impact Craters
    5. 9.4 The Origin of the Moon
    6. 9.5 Mercury
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. For Further Exploration
    10. Collaborative Group Activities
    11. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  11. 10 Earthlike Planets: Venus and Mars
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 10.1 The Nearest Planets: An Overview
    3. 10.2 The Geology of Venus
    4. 10.3 The Massive Atmosphere of Venus
    5. 10.4 The Geology of Mars
    6. 10.5 Water and Life on Mars
    7. 10.6 Divergent Planetary Evolution
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  12. 11 The Giant Planets
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 11.1 Exploring the Outer Planets
    3. 11.2 The Giant Planets
    4. 11.3 Atmospheres of the Giant Planets
    5. Key Terms
    6. Summary
    7. For Further Exploration
    8. Collaborative Group Activities
    9. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  13. 12 Rings, Moons, and Pluto
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 12.1 Ring and Moon Systems Introduced
    3. 12.2 The Galilean Moons of Jupiter
    4. 12.3 Titan and Triton
    5. 12.4 Pluto and Charon
    6. 12.5 Planetary Rings
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. For Further Exploration
    10. Collaborative Group Activities
    11. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  14. 13 Comets and Asteroids: Debris of the Solar System
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 13.1 Asteroids
    3. 13.2 Asteroids and Planetary Defense
    4. 13.3 The “Long-Haired” Comets
    5. 13.4 The Origin and Fate of Comets and Related Objects
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  15. 14 Cosmic Samples and the Origin of the Solar System
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 14.1 Meteors
    3. 14.2 Meteorites: Stones from Heaven
    4. 14.3 Formation of the Solar System
    5. 14.4 Comparison with Other Planetary Systems
    6. 14.5 Planetary Evolution
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. For Further Exploration
    10. Collaborative Group Activities
    11. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  16. 15 The Sun: A Garden-Variety Star
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 15.1 The Structure and Composition of the Sun
    3. 15.2 The Solar Cycle
    4. 15.3 Solar Activity above the Photosphere
    5. 15.4 Space Weather
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  17. 16 The Sun: A Nuclear Powerhouse
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 16.1 Sources of Sunshine: Thermal and Gravitational Energy
    3. 16.2 Mass, Energy, and the Theory of Relativity
    4. 16.3 The Solar Interior: Theory
    5. 16.4 The Solar Interior: Observations
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  18. 17 Analyzing Starlight
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 17.1 The Brightness of Stars
    3. 17.2 Colors of Stars
    4. 17.3 The Spectra of Stars (and Brown Dwarfs)
    5. 17.4 Using Spectra to Measure Stellar Radius, Composition, and Motion
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  19. 18 The Stars: A Celestial Census
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 18.1 A Stellar Census
    3. 18.2 Measuring Stellar Masses
    4. 18.3 Diameters of Stars
    5. 18.4 The H–R Diagram
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  20. 19 Celestial Distances
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 19.1 Fundamental Units of Distance
    3. 19.2 Surveying the Stars
    4. 19.3 Variable Stars: One Key to Cosmic Distances
    5. 19.4 The H–R Diagram and Cosmic Distances
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  21. 20 Between the Stars: Gas and Dust in Space
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 20.1 The Interstellar Medium
    3. 20.2 Interstellar Gas
    4. 20.3 Cosmic Dust
    5. 20.4 Cosmic Rays
    6. 20.5 The Life Cycle of Cosmic Material
    7. 20.6 Interstellar Matter around the Sun
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  22. 21 The Birth of Stars and the Discovery of Planets outside the Solar System
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 21.1 Star Formation
    3. 21.2 The H–R Diagram and the Study of Stellar Evolution
    4. 21.3 Evidence That Planets Form around Other Stars
    5. 21.4 Planets beyond the Solar System: Search and Discovery
    6. 21.5 Exoplanets Everywhere: What We Are Learning
    7. 21.6 New Perspectives on Planet Formation
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  23. 22 Stars from Adolescence to Old Age
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 22.1 Evolution from the Main Sequence to Red Giants
    3. 22.2 Star Clusters
    4. 22.3 Checking Out the Theory
    5. 22.4 Further Evolution of Stars
    6. 22.5 The Evolution of More Massive Stars
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. For Further Exploration
    10. Collaborative Group Activities
    11. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  24. 23 The Death of Stars
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 23.1 The Death of Low-Mass Stars
    3. 23.2 Evolution of Massive Stars: An Explosive Finish
    4. 23.3 Supernova Observations
    5. 23.4 Pulsars and the Discovery of Neutron Stars
    6. 23.5 The Evolution of Binary Star Systems
    7. 23.6 The Mystery of the Gamma-Ray Bursts
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  25. 24 Black Holes and Curved Spacetime
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 24.1 Introducing General Relativity
    3. 24.2 Spacetime and Gravity
    4. 24.3 Tests of General Relativity
    5. 24.4 Time in General Relativity
    6. 24.5 Black Holes
    7. 24.6 Evidence for Black Holes
    8. 24.7 Gravitational Wave Astronomy
    9. Key Terms
    10. Summary
    11. For Further Exploration
    12. Collaborative Group Activities
    13. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  26. 25 The Milky Way Galaxy
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 25.1 The Architecture of the Galaxy
    3. 25.2 Spiral Structure
    4. 25.3 The Mass of the Galaxy
    5. 25.4 The Center of the Galaxy
    6. 25.5 Stellar Populations in the Galaxy
    7. 25.6 The Formation of the Galaxy
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  27. 26 Galaxies
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 26.1 The Discovery of Galaxies
    3. 26.2 Types of Galaxies
    4. 26.3 Properties of Galaxies
    5. 26.4 The Extragalactic Distance Scale
    6. 26.5 The Expanding Universe
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. For Further Exploration
    10. Collaborative Group Activities
    11. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  28. 27 Active Galaxies, Quasars, and Supermassive Black Holes
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 27.1 Quasars
    3. 27.2 Supermassive Black Holes: What Quasars Really Are
    4. 27.3 Quasars as Probes of Evolution in the Universe
    5. Key Terms
    6. Summary
    7. For Further Exploration
    8. Collaborative Group Activities
    9. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  29. 28 The Evolution and Distribution of Galaxies
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 28.1 Observations of Distant Galaxies
    3. 28.2 Galaxy Mergers and Active Galactic Nuclei
    4. 28.3 The Distribution of Galaxies in Space
    5. 28.4 The Challenge of Dark Matter
    6. 28.5 The Formation and Evolution of Galaxies and Structure in the Universe
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. For Further Exploration
    10. Collaborative Group Activities
    11. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  30. 29 The Big Bang
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 29.1 The Age of the Universe
    3. 29.2 A Model of the Universe
    4. 29.3 The Beginning of the Universe
    5. 29.4 The Cosmic Microwave Background
    6. 29.5 What Is the Universe Really Made Of?
    7. 29.6 The Inflationary Universe
    8. 29.7 The Anthropic Principle
    9. Key Terms
    10. Summary
    11. For Further Exploration
    12. Collaborative Group Activities
    13. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  31. 30 Life in the Universe
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 30.1 The Cosmic Context for Life
    3. 30.2 Astrobiology
    4. 30.3 Searching for Life beyond Earth
    5. 30.4 The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  32. A | How to Study for an Introductory Astronomy Class
  33. B | Astronomy Websites, Images, and Apps
  34. C | Scientific Notation
  35. D | Units Used in Science
  36. E | Some Useful Constants for Astronomy
  37. F | Physical and Orbital Data for the Planets
  38. G | Selected Moons of the Planets
  39. H | Future Total Eclipses
  40. I | The Nearest Stars, Brown Dwarfs, and White Dwarfs
  41. J | The Brightest Twenty Stars
  42. K | The Chemical Elements
  43. L | The Constellations
  44. M | Star Chart and Sky Event Resources
  45. Index

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Explain how star clusters help us understand the stages of stellar evolution
  • List the different types of star clusters and describe how they differ in number of stars, structure, and age
  • Explain why the chemical composition of globular clusters is different from that of open clusters

The preceding description of stellar evolution is based on calculations. However, no star completes its main-sequence lifetime or its evolution to a red giant quickly enough for us to observe these structural changes as they happen. Fortunately, nature has provided us with an indirect way to test our calculations.

Instead of observing the evolution of a single star, we can look at a group or cluster of stars. We look for a group of stars that is very close together in space, held together by gravity, often moving around a common center. Then it is reasonable to assume that the individual stars in the group all formed at nearly the same time, from the same cloud, and with the same composition. We expect that these stars will differ only in mass. And their masses determine how quickly they go through each stage of their lives.

Since stars with higher masses evolve more quickly, we can find clusters in which massive stars have already completed their main-sequence phase of evolution and become red giants, while stars of lower mass in the same cluster are still on the main sequence, or even—if the cluster is very young—undergoing pre-main-sequence gravitational contraction. We can see many stages of stellar evolution among the members of a single cluster, and we can see whether our models can explain why the H–R diagrams of clusters of different ages look the way they do.

The three basic types of clusters astronomers have discovered are globular clusters, open clusters, and stellar associations. Their properties are summarized in Table 22.3. As we will see in the next section of this chapter, globular clusters contain only very old stars, whereas open clusters and associations contain young stars.

Characteristics of Star Clusters
Characteristic Globular Clusters Open Clusters Associations
Number in the Galaxy 150 Thousands Thousands
Location in the Galaxy Halo and central bulge Disk (and spiral arms) Spiral arms
Diameter (in light-years) 50–450 <30 100–500
Mass MSun 104–106 102–103 102–103
Number of stars 104–106 50–1000 102–104
Color of brightest stars Red Red or blue Blue
Luminosity of cluster (LSun) 104–106 102–106 104–107
Typical ages Billions of years A few hundred million years to, in the case of unusually large clusters, more than a billion years Up to about 107 years
Table 22.3

Globular Clusters

Globular clusters were given this name because they are nearly symmetrical round systems of, typically, hundreds of thousands of stars. The most massive globular cluster in our own Galaxy is Omega Centauri, which is about 16,000 light-years away and contains several million stars (Figure 22.6). Note that the brightest stars in this cluster, which are red giants that have already completed the main-sequence phase of their evolution, are red-orange in color. These stars have typical surface temperatures around 4000 K. As we will see, globular clusters are among the oldest parts of our Milky Way Galaxy.

Two Images of the Globular Cluster Omega Centauri. Panel (a), on the left, shows a ground-based image of Omega Centauri as a large sphere of thousands of stars that is so dense that the central region appears as an indistinct patch of light. Panel (b), on the right, shows a high-resolution H S T image of the central region, showing dozens of bright red and blue stars amidst a background of thousands of fainter yellow stars.
Figure 22.6 Omega Centauri. (a) Located at about 16,000 light-years away, Omega Centauri is the most massive globular cluster in our Galaxy. It contains several million stars. (b) This image, taken with the Hubble Space Telescope, zooms in near the center of Omega Centauri. The image is about 6.3 light-years wide. The most numerous stars in the image, which are yellow-white in color, are main-sequence stars similar to our Sun. The brightest stars are red giants that have begun to exhaust their hydrogen fuel and have expanded to about 100 times the diameter of our Sun. The blue stars have started helium fusion. (credit a: modification of work by NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA); credit b: modification of work by NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team)

What would it be like to live inside a globular cluster? In the dense central regions, the stars would be roughly a million times closer together than in our own neighborhood. If Earth orbited one of the inner stars in a globular cluster, the nearest stars would be light-months, not light-years, away. They would still appear as points of light, but would be brighter than any of the stars we see in our own sky. The Milky Way would probably be difficult to see through the bright haze of starlight produced by the cluster.

About 150 globular clusters are known in our Galaxy. Most of them are in a spherical halo (or cloud) surrounding the flat disk formed by the majority of our Galaxy’s stars. All the globular clusters are very far from the Sun, and some are found at distances of 60,000 light-years or more from the main disk of the Milky Way. The diameters of globular star clusters range from 50 light-years to more than 450 light-years.

Open Clusters

Open clusters are found in the disk of the Galaxy. They have a range of ages, some as old as, or even older than, our Sun. The youngest open clusters are still associated with the interstellar matter from which they formed. Open clusters are smaller than globular clusters, usually having diameters of less than 30 light-years, and they typically contain only several dozen to several hundreds of stars (Figure 22.7). The stars in open clusters usually appear well separated from one another, even in the central regions, which explains why they are called “open.” Our Galaxy contains thousands of open clusters, but we can see only a small fraction of them. Interstellar dust, which is also concentrated in the disk, dims the light of more distant clusters so much that they are undetectable.

The Open Cluster N G C 4755. This open cluster, known as the “Jewel Box,” contains many bright white and blue stars as well as a bright yellow supergiant near the center.
Figure 22.7 Jewel Box (NGC 4755). This open cluster of young, bright stars is about 6400 light-years away from the Sun. Note the contrast in color between the bright yellow supergiant and the hot blue main-sequence stars. The name comes from John Herschel’s nineteenth-century description of it as “a casket of variously colored precious stones.” (credit: ESO/Y. Beletsky)

Although the individual stars in an open cluster can survive for billions of years, they typically remain together as a cluster for only a few million years, or at most, a few hundred million years. There are several reasons for this. In small open clusters, the average speed of the member stars within the cluster may be higher than the cluster’s escape velocity,1 and the stars will gradually “evaporate” from the cluster. Close encounters of member stars may also increase the velocity of one of the members beyond the escape velocity. Every few hundred million years or so, the cluster may have a close encounter with a giant molecular cloud, and the gravitational force exerted by the cloud may tear the cluster apart.

Several open clusters are visible to the unaided eye. Most famous among them is the Pleiades (Figure 20.13), which appears as a tiny group of six stars (some people can see even more than six, and the Pleiades is sometimes called the Seven Sisters). This cluster is arranged like a small dipping spoon and is seen in the constellation of Taurus, the bull. A good pair of binoculars shows dozens of stars in the cluster, and a telescope reveals hundreds. (A car company, Subaru, takes its name from the Japanese term for this cluster; you can see the star group on the Subaru logo.)

The Hyades is another famous open cluster in Taurus. To the naked eye, it appears as a V-shaped group of faint stars marking the face of the bull. Telescopes show that Hyades actually contains more than 200 stars.

Stellar Associations

An association is a group of extremely young stars, typically containing 5 to 50 hot, bright O and B stars scattered over a region of space some 100–500 light-years in diameter. As an example, most of the stars in the constellation Orion form one of the nearest stellar associations. Associations also contain hundreds to thousands of low-mass stars, but these are much fainter and less conspicuous. The presence of really hot, luminous stars indicates that star formation in the association has occurred in the last million years or so. Since O stars go through their entire lives in only about a million years, they would not still be around unless star formation has occurred recently. It is therefore not surprising that associations are found in regions rich in the gas and dust required to form new stars. It’s like a brand new building still surrounded by some of the construction materials used to build it and with the landscape still showing signs of construction. On the other hand, because associations, like ordinary open clusters, lie in regions occupied by dusty interstellar matter, many are hidden from our view.

Footnotes

  • 1 Escape velocity is the speed needed to overcome the gravity of some object or group of objects. The rockets we send up from Earth, for example, must travel faster than the escape velocity of our planet to be able to get to other worlds.
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