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There’s a lot of elbow room out in our region of the Milky Way Galaxy. The nearest star system is four light-years away, and only a few dozen stars are within 15 light-years.
If we were in the middle of a star cluster in Gemini, though, our night skies would be ablaze: Perhaps 2500 stars or more would appear within that 15-light-year range. Many of the stars would outshine any of the ones that are visible in our current skies, so the night would be spectacular.
Messier 35 is in the west at nightfall, at Gemini’s feet — well below its “twins,” the stars Castor and Pollux. Although the cluster is more than 2500 light-years away, under dark skies it’s visible to the unaided eye as a fuzzy blob of light. Binoculars enhance the view, and small telescopes reveal many of the cluster’s individual stars.
M35 is only about 175 million years old. Yet that’s plenty of time for the cluster’s hottest, heaviest stars to have expired. Some may have blasted themselves to bits. Others cast their outer layers into space in a more gentle process, leaving behind their hot, dense cores.
175 million years has also been long enough for many of the cluster’s original stars to have been pulled away by the gravity of the rest of the galaxy. But M35’s remaining stars are bound so strongly by their mutual gravitational pull that they’re likely to stay together for a long time — keeping a crowded stellar neighborhood intact.
Script by Damond Benningfield