Into the Heart of the Spider

Credit: NASA, ESA

I’ve mentioned before that I really don’t like spiders. Dive into this gorgeous image of the Taranatula Nebula from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

This image offers loads for the imagination. What stories and pictures do you see floating in this nebular cloud? Leave a note below.

The Tarantula Nebula is a vast star-forming factory. 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.

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, just out of the frame of this image.

The Tarantula Nebula lies about 170,000 light-years from Earth in the Large Magellanic Cloud. The LMC is an companion galaxy to the Milky Way which is home to the Sun and the bright stars we see in the sky. Although it seems distant, the LMC is in the stellar backyard. The Tarantula Nebula shines so brightly that observers in the Southern Hemisphere can be seen easily without a telescope.

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The ancient peoples saw pictures in the sky. From those patterns in the heavens, ancient storytellers created legends about heroes, maidens, dragons, bears, centaurs, dogs and mythical creatures...
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