Home > Astronomy, Cosmology, General Astronomy, Nebulae > A Newly Identified Separate Star Cluster In Front Of The Orion Nebula Cluster

A Newly Identified Separate Star Cluster In Front Of The Orion Nebula Cluster

Using images from the 340 Mpx MegaCam camera on the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) from the summit of Mauna Kea, astronomers identified the massive cluster of young stars NGC 1980 to be a clearly separate entity from the main cluster of the most studied star formation region in the Galaxy. A technique relying on the combination of optical, infrared, and mid-infrared data ensures astronomers are sampling only stars located in the foreground of the Orion nebula. This technique also led them to the discovery of a nearby small star cluster, baptized L1641W.

Not surprisingly, astronomers see the Orion nebula as the benchmark for star formation studies, a true golden standard, and most of the established measurements of how stars form have been derived from this important region. For example, the distribution of stellar and brown dwarfs masses at birth, their relative age, their spatial distribution, and the properties of the planet forming circumstellar disks surrounding the young stars.

But as it turns out, reality is more complicated. Recent observations of the Orion nebula from the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) with the 340 Mpx MegaCam camera coupled to previous observations with ESA’s Herschel and XMM-Newton, NASA’s Spitzer and WISE, as well as 2MASS and Calar Alto, revealed the cluster known as NGC 1980 as being a clearly distinct massive cluster of slightly older stars in front of the nebula. Although astronomers knew of the presence of a foreground stellar population since the 1960s, the new CFHT observations revealed that this population is more massive than first thought, and it is not uniformly distributed, clustering around the star iota Ori at the southern tip of Orion’s sword.

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