Most galaxies form new stars at a fairly slow rate, but members of a rare class known as “starburst” galaxies blaze with extremely active star formation. Scientists using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope are perfecting a technique to determine the history of starburst activity in galaxies by using the colors of star clusters. Measuring the clusters’ colors yields information about stellar temperatures. Since young stars are blue, and older stars redder, the colors can be related to the ages, somewhat similar to counting the rings in a fallen tree trunk in order to determine the tree’s age.
The galaxy NGC 3310 is forming clusters of new stars at a prodigious rate. Astronomer Gerhardt Meurer of The Johns Hopkins University leads a team of collaborators who are studying several starburst galaxies, including NGC 3310, which is showcased in this month’s Hubble Heritage image.