Washington: An international team of astronomers has discovered over a million young stars that are forming in a hot, dusty cloud of molecular gases in a tiny galaxy near our own Milky Way.
The star cluster is buried within a supernebula in a dwarf galaxy known as NGC 5253, in the constellation Centaurus.
The cluster has one billion times the luminosity of our sun, but is invisible in ordinary light, hidden by its own hot gases.
"We are stardust, and this cluster is a factory of stars and soot," said Jean Turner, a professor of physics and astronomy in the University of California - Los Angeles and lead author of the paper that was published in the journal Nature.
The amount of dust surrounding the stars is approximately 15,000 times the mass of our sun in elements such as carbon and oxygen.
The cluster is remarkably young, which about 3 million years old.
It is likely to live for more than a billion years.
The Milky Way is still forming new stars, but not in nearly such large numbers, Turner noted.
Some astronomers had believed that such giant star clusters could form only in the early universe.
The cluster contains more than 7,000 massive "O" stars -- the most luminous of all known stars, each a million times brighter than our sun.
NGC 5253 has approximately nine times as much dark matter as visible matter - a much higher rate than the inner parts of the Milky Way.