Credit: The Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI/NASA)
An green octopus hides in the corner of this image of a nebula in the Large Magellanic Cloud. Home to some of the most brilliant, most massive stars known to astronomers, Hodge 301 is an active starburst region.
Explore the image from NASA‘s Hubble Space Telescope. What shapes and creatures do you see in this nebula. Our green octopus is a tangle of green gas in the lower left. The glittering stars of Hodge 301 are to the bottom right. Near the center of the image are small, dense gas globs and columns of dust. New stars are forming even now in these areas. Hodge 301 lies in the huge, super-star factory called the Tarantula Nebula. Starbursts occur when there is a flurry of star formation. This occurs when gas and dust get pushed together by supernovae explosions or galaxy collisions. Astronomers believe that at least 40 stars have exploded within the cluster.
Hodge 301 contains at least three red supergiants that are on the verge of exploding as supernovae. These massive stars are so large that when their nuclear fuel of hydrogen and helium run out, they will collapse under their own great weight. This sudden shrinking makes the star super hot and creates a pressure that tears the star apart. Releasing all that energy at once makes supernovae outshine entire galaxies for brief periods of time. When the supergiants of Hodge 301 explode, they will stir up more dust and gas, causing the gas to glow and new stars to be born.
Hodge 301 and the Tarantula Nebula lie within our cosmic neighbor, the Large Magellanic Cloud. The irregular galaxy, seen only in the southern hemisphere, was once thought to be a satellite galaxy to the Milky Way. The LMC is about 168,000 light-years away making it the third closest galaxy to our own, following the Sagittarius Dwarf Spheroidal Galaxy and Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy.