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Oldest Known Objects May Be Surprisingly Immature

For Release: April 28, 2008

CXC Release

Globular clusters
Image Credit: NASA/CXC/Northwestern Univ/J.Fregau
Press Image and Caption

Some of the oldest objects in the Universe may still have a long way to go, according to a new study using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. These new results indicate that globular clusters might be surprisingly less mature in their development than previously thought.

Globular clusters, dense bunches of up to millions of stars found in all galaxies, are among the oldest known objects in the Universe, with most estimates of their ages ranging from 9 to 13 billions of years old. As such they contain some of the first stars to form in a galaxy and understanding their evolution is critical to understanding the evolution of galaxies.

"For many years, globular clusters have been used as wonderful natural laboratories to study the evolution and interaction of stars," said John Fregeau of Northwestern University, who conducted the study. "So, it’s exciting to discover something that may be new and fundamental about the way they evolve."

Conventional wisdom is that globular clusters pass through three phases of evolution or development of their structure, corresponding to adolescence, middle age, and old age. These "ages" refer to the evolutionary state of the cluster, not the physical ages of the individual stars.

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