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An international team of astronomers has taken observations to the next level with their discovery of 96 new star clusters which have been hidden behind the dusty cloak of interstellar matter. By utilizing sensitive infrared detectors and the world’s largest survey telescope, the intrepid crew set a new record for finding so many faint and small clusters at one time.
“This discovery highlights the potential of VISTA and the VVV survey for finding star clusters, especially those hiding in dusty star-forming regions in the Milky Way’s disc. VVV goes much deeper than other surveys,” says Jura Borissova, lead author of the study.
“We found that most of the clusters are very small and only have about 10–20 stars. Compared to typical open clusters, these are very faint and compact objects — the dust in front of these clusters makes them appear 10 000 to 100 million times fainter in visible light. It’s no wonder they were hidden,” explains Radostin Kurtev, another member of the team.
Since antiquity only 2500 open clusters have been found in the Milky Way, but astronomers estimate there might be as many as 30,000 still hiding behind the dust and gas. That means these new 96 open clusters could be only the very beginning of a host of new discoveries. “We’ve just started to use more sophisticated automatic software to search for less concentrated and older clusters. I am confident that many more are coming soon,” adds Borissova.