Omega Centauri

Omega Centauri

Omega Centauri is an intimate place for stars. The cluster contains millions of stars packed into a ball a few dozen light-years across. On average, the planets in its core are separated by just one-sixth of a light-year. By comparison, the closest star system to the Sun is more than four light-years away. That means the skies of any planet in the cluster would be ablaze with stars.

A recent study, though, found that it’s unlikely that anyone is there to enjoy the view.

The team was led by Stephen Kane of the University of California-Riverside. It used Hubble Space Telescope to study almost a half-million stars in the center of Omega Centauri, which may be the core of a small galaxy that was consumed by the Milky Way.

The researchers calculated the habitable zone of each star — the distance from the star where conditions are best suited for life. They then calculated the interactions between stars.

They found that, on average, each star passes especially close to a neighbor every million years or so. The pull of the passing stars would make the habitable zones unstable — a planet could be pulled out of the zone. So it would be tough for life to form in the core of Omega Centauri — and just as tough for it to survive.

Omega Centauri is bright enough to see with the unaided eye. But you need to be in the southern third of the U.S. to find it. Right now, it’s quite low in the south about 11 p.m. It looks like a fuzzy star.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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