Amazing Photo of Wild Duck Cluster

This beautiful image of the open Wild Duck Cluster, also called Messier 11 or NGC 6705, was taken at La Silla Observatory in Chile. The blue stars in the center of the image are the young, hot stars of the cluster. The surrounding redder stars are older, cooler background stars. Credit: ESO

A flock of celestial ducks take flight in a stunning new snapshot released on Wednesday, offering astronomers a lesson on how stars are made and sky-watchers a reminder of a fun viewing opportunity.

Using the keen digital eye of the 7.2-foot (2.2-meter) telescope at La Silla Observatory in Chile, astronomers have revealed the Wild Duck Cluster, one of the richest and most beautiful celestial objects in the sky.

Also known as Messier 11, the open star cluster is located some 6,000 light-years from Earth, in the southern constellation Scutum, the Shield.

The Wild Duck is one of the most compact of star clusters, packing about 3,000 stars into only a 20-light-year-wide space.

A Star Is Born

Open star clusters interest astronomers because all of their stellar members are born from the same cloud of gas and dust. Therefore, they share the same chemical makeup and age. But stars within clusters can have different weights, so they live very different lives. In a sense, they offer observers the best natural laboratory available to test out theories about star formation and evolution.

Open clusters such as M11 form in the spiral arms of galaxies all the time, but they tend to disband as individual stars fly away. The Wild Duck is thought to be about 250 million years old, and it’s expected that it will begin to disband in the next few million years.

 

This wide-angle star chart shows the location of the Wild Duck cluster in the constellation Scutum - just above the giant Teapot stellar pattern in the evening southern sky.  Also the moon will act as a convenient guidepost to finding the cluster on Oct.1, 2014. Credit: SkySafari
This wide-angle star chart shows the location of the Wild Duck cluster in the constellation Scutum, just above the giant teapot stellar pattern in the evening southern sky. The moon will act as a convenient guidepost to finding the cluster on October 1, 2014. Credit: SkySafari

See for Yourself

The Wild Duck name for the cluster was coined back in the 19th century, when the astronomers who first observed it through a telescope noticed that its brightest stars form an open triangle pattern in the sky, one that resembles ducks flying in formation.

The cluster is visible to the naked eye, seen as a fuzzy patch of light halfway up the southern evening sky as seen from mid-northern latitudes.

This chart shows the location of open cluster NGC 6705, here designated as Messier 11 and marked with a yellow circle, in the constellation of Scutum (The Shield). Scutum is also home to open cluster Messier 26 and the well-known variable star Delta Scuti. Messier 11, although barely visible to the naked eye, is easily viewed with binoculars or a small telescope. Credit: ESO, IAU and Sky & Telescope
This chart shows the location of open cluster NGC 6705, here designated as Messier 11 and marked with a yellow circle, in the constellation of Scutum, the Shield. Credit: ESO, IAU, and Sky & Telescope

Look for the cluster straight above the giant teapot stellar pattern in the constellation Sagittarius, the Archer. On Wednesday, October 1, 2014, the quarter moon will lie 12 degrees below M11. This separation will be a bit more than the width of your fist held at an arm’s length.

Happy hunting!

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Changing Planet

Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.