A Glittering Panorama

NASA/ESA Hubble

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.

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