We are looking far from home in this pretty image of an open cluster of young stars, sparkling like jewels. They and their associated gas cloud are known as NGC 346 and are located in the Small Magellanic Cloud, a small galaxy which is more than 210 000 light years (64 000 parsecs) from the Sun.

Image of NGC 346

This Hubble Space Telescope view shows one of the most dynamic and intricately detailed star-forming regions in the brilliant star cluster called NGC 346. (Image credit: NASA, ESA and A. Nota (ESA/STScI, STScI/AURA))


Although they look tranquil here, observed up close such young stars would seethe and glare violently. These energetic but ultimately short-lived stars are destroying their own nest. Their harsh radiation and raw stellar winds are rapidly blowing away the molecular cloud which spawned them. Already the wispy gas and dust cloud is looking somewhat ragged. NGC 346 is located in the constellation Tucana (the Toucan) and is approximately 200 light years across.

Once thought to be a satellite of our own galaxy, increasingly the Small Magellanic Cloud is believed to be an interloper from the intergalactic void which has wandered into its present location and will eventually recede away into the darkness.


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