Hubble reveals what astronomers will see 10,000 years from now

We're used to images from space revealing the universe's distant past, but now the Hubble Space Telescope, with the help of a powerful computer simulation, has revealed the movements of a swarm of stars for the next 10,000 years.

Omega Centauri is a globular cluster home to about 10 million stars, all of which orbit around a common center of gravity. It's the brightest and biggest such cluster in the Milky Way, and at its densest, the stars are only a tenth of a light-year apart - that's less than a fortieth the distance between our Sun and its nearest stellar neighbor.

Hubble snapped crystal clear photographs of the cluster in 2002 and 2006, which in turn allows astronomers to chart the tiny movements of stars over four years. A study led by researchers at the Space Telescope Science Institute focused on 100,000 stars, or about 1% of the cluster's total stellar population. Because Hubble's snapshots had such amazing clarity, they were able to identify the tiny movements in the two sets of images, and in doing so extrapolate the entire orbits of each of the stars around the cluster's central point.

Hubble reveals what astronomers will see 10,000 years from now

In so doing, they can now chart what Omega Centauri will look like to astronomers in the years 3000, 4000, and all the way up to the year 12,000. The image above shows just a small part of the stars' movements, all of which come from within the white box in the top image. The streaks indicate where the stars will move over the next 600 years.

Of course, even as we project 10,000 years into the future, we're still stuck in the past. That's because Omega Centauri is 16,000 light-years away, meaning the furthest projections still only reveal what the cluster's positions in the year 4,000 BCE. This is where trying to wrap your mind around cosmic timekeeping can really give you a headache.

[Space.com]