Image credit: NASA, ESA, and A. Nota (STScI/ESA)

Key Takeaways

  1. NGC 346 is an open cluster of stars along with a nebula in the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC), discovered by James Dunlop in 1826.
  2. Positioned near the brightest H II region in the SMC, designated N66, NGC 346 is surrounded by 230 massive OB stars, including 33 of the O-type category.
  3. The inner region of the cluster is densely packed, while the outer region exhibits more dispersion.
  4. The youngest cluster members are under two million years old, indicating a youthful state of high-mass star formation.
  5. The cluster’s star formation rate is estimated at approximately 4±1 solar masses per year.

NGC 346, an enchanting open cluster of stars accompanied by a captivating nebula, graces the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC) in the constellation Tucana. Discovered by the eminent Scottish astronomer James Dunlop on August 1, 1826, this celestial wonder has intrigued scientists for centuries. J. L. E. Dreyer’s description of NGC 346 as “bright, large, very irregular figure, much brighter middle similar to double star, mottled but not resolved” only adds to its allure.

Located near the heart of the brightest H II region in the SMC, known as N66, NGC 346 finds itself in the northeastern part of the galactic bar. Studies have unveiled 230 massive OB stars in the direction of this cluster, with 33 of them belonging to the O-type category and 11 of those being O6.5 or earlier. The central 15-parsec radius of the cluster appears densely packed, while the region outside exhibits more dispersion. As a youth-dominated cluster, its youngest members boast an age of less than two million years, and intriguingly, the cluster seems to remain actively engaged in high-mass star formation, further enhancing its enigmatic nature.


NASA Webb’s near-infrared sensitivity detected dusts in disks of material surrounding forming stars – which means that this region might contain the building blocks for not just stars, but planets as well! image credit: Science: NASA, ESA, CSA, Olivia C. Jones (UK ATC), Guido De Marchi (ESTEC), Margaret Meixner (USRA); Image Processing: Alyssa Pagan (STScI), Nolan Habel (USRA), Laura Lenkić (USRA), Laurie E. U. Chu (NASA Ames)


This portrait of the bright star-forming region NGC 346, in which different wavelengths of light swirl together like watercolours, reveals new information about how stars form The image is based on data from ESA XMM-Newton (X-rays; blue), ESO’s New Technology Telescope (visible light; green), and NASA’s Spitzer (infrared; red). The infrared light shows cold dust, while the visible light denotes glowing gas, and the X-rays represent very hot gas. Ordinary stars appear as blue spots with white centres, while young stars enshrouded in dust appear as red spots with white centres. ESO/ESA/ JPL-Caltech/NASA/ D. Gouliermis (MPIA) et al.


This particular image was obtained using the Wide Field Imager instrument at the 2.2-metre MPG/ESO telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile. Images like this help astronomers chronicle star birth and evolution, while offering glimpses of how stellar development influences the appearance of the cosmic environment over time. This is an enhanced colour image based on three different broadband filters (B, V, R), as well as a narrowband filter (H-alpha, shown in blue).. The field of view is about 30 arcminutes wide.


Credit: Observation Bundle processed by JSE


Credit: Mark Hanson, S. Mazlin, W. Keller, R. Parker, T. Tse, P. Proulx, D. Plesko; SSRO/PROMPT/CTIO

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