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Sci-Tech

Hubble telescope sees half a million stars in one wild space place

NASA and ESA release a Hubble view of Messier 3 that will have you saying, "My God, it's full of stars!"

messier3

Messier 3 shines in this Hubble Space Telescope image.

ESA/Hubble & NASA, G. Piotto et al.

The term "globular cluster" doesn't invoke visions of beauty all on its own, but the actual objects out in space are some of the most stunning the Hubble Space Telescope has ever laid eyes on. 

The European Space Agency described the Messier 3 globular cluster, the subject of a newly released Hubble view, as "one of the most beautiful of them all." It's 8 billion years old and contains half a million stars. 

Globular clusters are spherical collections of stars. Messier 3 is a bit unusual, though. It's packed with a whole bunch of variable stars, ones that change in brightness over time. Scientists have spotted 274 of these twinklers in Messier 3. 

As long as we're throwing around cool space terms, here's another one: "blue stragglers." These stars are bluer and more luminous than their brethren. They look younger than their neighbors, but they're really more like vampires. 

ESA reported in 2009 that blue stragglers may form by siphoning fresh hydrogen from more massive star companions. 

"The new fuel supply allows the smaller star to heat up, growing bluer and hotter -- behaving like a star at an earlier stage in its evolution," ESA said. You can spot a bunch of these glowing blue freeloaders in the Messier 3 Hubble image.

Hubble has been on a roll with space clusters. Check out the telescope's view of an "open cluster" called the Wild Duck Cluster. It's a very different look from Messier 3, but also gorgeous in its own right.