The legs of a spider shine in the light of several million stars in this new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image of 30 Doradus and the Tarantula Nebula.
This image offers loads for the imagination. What stories and pictures do you see floating in this nebular cloud? Leave a note in the comments below.
The Tarantula Nebula is a vast star-forming factory; one of the largest that we know. In earthbound telescopes, the sprawling clouds of gas and dust resembled the legs of a spider, giving the nebula its name. Explore the dark clouds, glowing gas, new stars and churned dust that make up the nebula. Recent supernovae, including NGC 2060 just left of center in the image, have sent tendrils of dust rolling through the nebula. NGC 2060 contains the brightest known pulsar. A pulsar is a rapidly spinning neutron star, the super-dense core of the star left after the colossal supernova explosion scattered the bulk of the star into space. The churning stirs up the nebula, creating dense pockets of gas and dust that may one day glow as new stars. The colors in the cloud come from glowing gases. Hydrogen gas glows red. Oxygen glows blue.
The image, released to celebrate Hubble‘s 22nd anniversary, is one of the largest mosaics assembled from Hubble images. Because the nebula is close to Earth, Hubble can make out individual stars. This detail gives astronomers important information about star birth, evolution and death. Look close in the image and you can see baby stars still wrapped in their dark cocoons to giant stars that will explode in cataclysmic supernovae within just a few million years. In between, look for sparkling star clusters.
New stars shine throughout the image. The nebula’s rich supply of hydrogen fuels the creation of these new stars. Their blistering ultraviolet light causes the nebula to glow in red light. Much of the radiation that lights up the nebula comes from the densely packed group of stars called RMC 136. The cluster is part of a larger group of stars known as NGC 2070. This young star cluster contains about 500,000 stars.
The Tarantula Nebula lies about 170,000 light-years from Earth in the Large Magellanic Cloud toward the constellation Doradus. The LMC is a companion galaxy to the Milky Way Galaxy which is home to the Sun and the bright stars we see in the sky and is right in our galaxy’s backyard.