Probing a Nearby Stellar Cradle: Star Cluster Cygnus OB2

star cluster Cygnus OB2

The Cygnus OB2 star cluster lies approximately 5,000 light-years away from Earth. Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/J.Drake et al, Optical: Univ. of Hertfordshire/INT/IPHAS, Infrared: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The above composite image of star cluster Cygnus OB2, which is located about 5,000 light-years from Earth, contains X-rays from Chandra, infrared data from Spitzer, and optical data from the Isaac Newton Telescope.

  • Cygnus OB2 is a star cluster in the Milky Way that contains many hot, massive young stars.
  • This composite image of Cygnus OB2 contains X-rays from Chandra (blue), infrared data from Spitzer (red), and optical data from the Isaac Newton Telescope (orange).
  • Astronomers would like to better understand how this and other star factories like it form and evolve.
  • A deep Chandra observation of Cygnus OB2 has found almost 1,500 stars emitting X-rays.

The Milky Way and other galaxies in the universe harbor many young star clusters and associations that each contain hundreds to thousands of hot, massive, young stars known as O and B stars. The star cluster Cygnus OB2 contains more than 60 O-type stars and about a thousand B-type stars. At a relatively nearby distance to Earth of about 5,000 light years, Cygnus OB2 is the closest massive cluster. Deep observations with NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory of Cygnus OB2 have been used to detect the X-ray emission from the hot outer atmospheres, or coronas, of young stars in the cluster and to probe how these great star factories form and evolve. About 1,700 X-ray sources were detected, including about 1,450 thought to be stars in the cluster. In this image, X-rays from Chandra (blue) have been combined with infrared data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope (red) and optical data from the Isaac Newton Telescope (orange).

Young stars ranging in age from one million to seven million years were detected. The infrared data indicates that a very low fraction of the stars have circumstellar disks of dust and gas. Even fewer disks were found close to the massive OB stars, betraying the corrosive power of their intense radiation that leads to early destruction of their disks. Evidence is also seen that the older population of stars has lost its most massive members because of supernova explosions. Finally, a total mass of about 30,000 times the mass of the sun is derived for Cygnus OB2, similar to that of the most massive star-forming regions in our Galaxy.

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages the Chandra program for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory controls Chandra’s science and flight operations from Cambridge, Mass.

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