Millions of young stars shine brightly in this enormous stellar nursery at the heart of the Tarantula Nebula.
The Hubble space telescope captured this amazing panorama, which reveals intricate details about the expanse known as 30 Doradus. Located about 170,000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud — a small galaxy orbiting our Milky Way — 30 Doradus is one of the largest and most prolific star-forming regions in our galactic neck of the woods.
The region is so huge that, if it were as close to us as the Orion Nebula (the nearest stellar nursery to Earth, about 1,300 light-years away), it would be the size of 60 full moons in the sky and glow so brightly that it could cast shadows on the ground.
Though 30 Doradus isn’t quite that close, Hubble can still resolve the individual stars inside the region, allowing astronomers to study the lives of stars in detail.
Stars are born when a mass of gas and dust collapses under its own weight. The center of this mass gravitationally attracts more material, growing larger and heavier. The extra material increases the density and temperature in the central region. Eventually, the mass reaches a critical point and hydrogen will begin fusing into helium. The star ignites, releasing copious amounts of heat and energy.
Inside 30 Doradus, Hubble can spot stellar babies, only a few thousand years old and still wrapped in the remnants of the dusky cloud of gas that gave rise to them. It can also see massive stars a few tens of millions of years old, which burn through their fuel fast and die young.
The white region in the left side of the picture contains some of the most massive stars in the universe, weighing in at hundreds of times the sun’s mass. This stellar cluster is roughly 2 million to 3 million years old and contains about 500,000 stars in total. Intense ultraviolet light released by the young stars pushes against the surrounding gas and dust, carving out the beautiful structures and filigrees seen in this image. Some of this gas and dust will be mushed together, increasing its density and potentially sparking the birth of more new stars.
The new image was released Apr. 17 in honor of Hubble’s 22nd year in orbit. You can download the image at 4,000 x 3,200 pixels, but if you want to really zoom in on the picture, download the insanely large version of 20,323 x 16,259-pixels. (Warning: It’s 643 MB.)
Via wired science