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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