Live Fast, Die Young, Create a Beautiful Galaxy

This composite image of Trumpler 14 was made with data taken in 2005-2006 with Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys. Blue, visible, and infrared broadband filters combine with filters that let astronomers detect hydrogen and nitrogen emission from the glowing gas surrounding the open cluster.
NASA, ESA, and J. Maíz Apellániz (Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia, Spain)

Everywhere you look in the sky, you see stars. Our Milky Way Galaxy has perhaps 400 million or more stars, and there are galaxies across the universe containing similar numbers (or even more). The first stars formed in the first galaxies, which makes stars an integral part of the cosmos. Astronomers have found stars forming only a few hundred billion years after the Big Bang -- the event that began the universe. Since then, countless stars have gone on to beautify their galaxies in fascinating ways.

Starbirth Makes Big and Little Stars

The process of starbirth occurs in many, many galaxies. It starts as a result of activity within the galaxy, and also as a by-product of galaxy collisions. It's a process that creates all manner of stars, from those like our Sun to huge, bright monsters that live their lives in a fury. The science of astronomy itself began as a study of stars — leading scientists to learn what these objects are and how they shine. Now, we are learning details of what their role is in galaxies across the cosmos. 

Introducing Hot Young Stars that Are Living Fast and Furious

The Hubble Space Telescope has imaged many stars during its years on orbit, including members of star clusters. Stars are often born in batches like this, so it's useful to study the characteristics of those born about the same time from the same stellar nursery. In 2005 and 2006, Hubble captured a gorgeous view of hot, young massive stars in a cluster visible in the Southern Hemisphere constellation of Carina. It's called Trumpler 14, and lies about 8,000 light-years away from us. Its stars are blue-white and range from 17,000 degrees F (10,000 C) to 71,000 F (40,000 C). This is many times hotter than the Sun, which is about 10,000 F (5,600 C). 

The stars you see in this image are really young — only about 500,000 years old. For a star like the Sun, that lives about 10 billion years, that's baby age. But these "babies", which formed when most of Earth's habitable land was still gathered into a few large continents, are ripping through their lives at a furious rate. In a few million years, they'll all explode in cataclysmic events called supernova explosions. They'll hurl their material through space, forming clouds of gas and dust called nebulae. Those clouds will become the nutrients for the formation of new stars and possibly planets orbiting around them. In their place will be left behind neutron stars or possibly even stellar black holes

As these stars live their fast and furious lives, they destroy the remnants of their own birth clouds. What you see in this image of Trumpler 14 shows the stars set against the backdrop of their stellar nursery. They've carved out huge caverns in the nebula, sculpting pillars and clumps of gas where new stars might still be forming. 

Although these stars look like glittering diamonds, they're going to be much more valuable when they die. Their explosions will create elements we treasure here on Earth, such as gold. If you have a piece of gold jewelry, take a look at it. The atoms of gold that make it up were forged in the death of a long-ago star. So, were the elements that formed Earth, and ultimately the chemicals that make up our bodies. The oxygen you breathe, the iron in your blood, the carbon that all live on our planet is based on — all these come from dying stars, including supernovae. So, not only do these stars beautiful the galaxy, but they add immeasurable value — and life — to the worlds within it.