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The Two Mysterious Populations of NGC 2419
NGC 2419, Caldwell 25
RA 7h 38m 8.76s Dec 38° 52' 43.01"
300,000 light years
2.59 x 2.57 arcminutes
North is 46.4° left of vertical
ESA/Hubble & NASA, S. Larsen et al.
February 25, 2019
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ABOUT THIS IMAGE:
Globular clusters like NGC 2419, visible in this image taken with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, are not only beautiful, but also fascinating. They are spherical groups of stars which orbit the center of a galaxy; in the case of NGC 2419, that galaxy is the Milky Way. NGC 2419 can be found around 300,000 light-years from the Solar System, in the constellation Lynx (the Lynx).
The stars populating globular clusters are very similar to one another, with similar properties such as metallicity. The similarity of these stellar doppelgängers is due to their formation early in the history of the galaxy. As the stars in a globular cluster all formed at around the same time, they tend to display reasonably homogeneous properties. It was believed that this similarity also extended to the stellar helium content; that is, it was thought that all stars in a globular cluster would contain comparable amounts of helium.
However, Hubble's observations of NGC 2419 have shown that this is not always the case. This surprising globular cluster turns out to be made up of two separate populations of red giant stars, one of which is unusually helium-rich. Other elements within the different stars in NGC 2419 vary too - nitrogen in particular. On top of this, these helium-rich stars were found to be predominantly in the center of the globular cluster, and to be rotating. These observations have raised questions about the formation of globular clusters; did these two drastically different groups of stars form together? Or did this globular cluster come into being by a different route entirely?
NGC 2419 (also known as Caldwell 25) is a globular cluster in the constellation Lynx. It was discovered by William Herschel on December 31, 1788. NGC 2419 is at a distance of about 300,000 light years from the solar system and at the same distance from the galactic center.
NGC 2419 bears the nickname "the Intergalactic Wanderer," which was bestowed when it was erroneously thought not to be in orbit around the Milky Way. Its orbit takes it further away from the galactic center than the Magellanic Clouds, but it can (with qualifications) be considered as part of the Milky Way. At this great distance it takes three billion years to make one trip around the galaxy.
The cluster is dim in comparison to more famous globular clusters such as M13. Nonetheless, NGC 2419 is a 9th magnitude object and is readily viewed, in good sky conditions, with good quality telescopes as small as 102mm (four inches) in aperture. Intrinsically it is one of the brightest and most massive globular clusters of our galaxy, having an absolute magnitude of -9.42 and being 900,000 times more massive than our Sun.
It was proposed that NGC 2419 could be, as Omega Centauri, the remnant of a dwarf spheroidal galaxy disrupted and accreted by the Milky Way. However, later research seems to disprove that possibility.
Leos Ondra has noted that NGC 2419 would be the "best and brightest"
for any observers in the Andromeda Galaxy, looking for globular clusters
in our galaxy since it lies outside the obscuring density of the main
disk. This is analogous to the way the cluster G1 can be seen orbiting
outside of the Andromeda Galaxy from Earth.