Using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and infrared telescopes, astronomers have made an important advance in the understanding of how clusters of stars come into being.
The data show early notions of how star clusters are formed cannot be correct. The simplest idea is stars form into clusters when a giant cloud of gas and dust condenses. The center of the cloud pulls in material from its surroundings until it becomes dense enough to trigger star formation. This process occurs in the center of the cloud first, implying that the stars in the middle of the cluster form first and, therefore, are the oldest.
However, the latest data from Chandra suggest something else is happening. Researchers studied two clusters where sun-like stars currently are forming – NGC 2024, located in the center of the Flame Nebula, and the Orion Nebula Cluster. From this study, they discovered the stars on the outskirts of the clusters actually are the oldest.