Diamond stars in a sea of colour

R136

R136 is a group of young, hot, massive stars in the 30 Doradus Nebula in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a galaxy close to our Milky Way.

THIS MASSIVE, YOUNG STELLAR grouping, called R136, is only a few million years old and resides in the 30 Doradus Nebula, a turbulent star-birth region in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a satellite galaxy of our Milky Way.

Many of the diamond-like icy blue stars are among the most massive stars known. Several of them are over 100 times more massive than our Sun. These hefty stars are destined to pop off, like a string of firecrackers, as supernovae in a few million years.

The image, made from exposures in ultraviolet, visible, and red light by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3, spans about 100 light-years.

Despite being in another galaxy, the nebula is close enough to Earth that Hubble can resolve individual stars, giving astronomers important information about the stars’ birth and evolution. There is no known star-forming region in our galaxy as large or as prolific as 30 Doradus.

The brilliant stars are carving deep cavities in the surrounding material by unleashing a torrent of ultraviolet light, and hurricane-force stellar winds (streams of charged particles), which are etching away the enveloping hydrogen gas cloud in which the stars were born.

The image reveals a fantasy landscape of pillars, ridges, and valleys, as well as a dark region in the centre. The brilliant stars can also help create a successive generation of offspring—when the winds hit dense walls of gas, they create shockwaves, which compress the gas and potentially triggers a new wave of star birth.

The cluster is a rare example of the many super star clusters that formed in the distant, early universe, when star birth and galaxy interactions were more frequent. Previous Hubble observations have shown astronomers that super star clusters in faraway galaxies are common.

The LMC is located 170,000 light-years away and is a member of the Local Group of Galaxies, which also includes the Milky Way.

The Hubble observations were taken October 20-27, 2009. The blue colour is light from the hottest, most massive stars; the green from the glow of oxygen; and the red from fluorescing hydrogen.

Full-size image suitable for screen wallpaper (1280 x 1280 pixels)

Adapted from information issued by NASA, ESA, and F. Paresce (INAF-IASF, Bologna, Italy), R. O’Connell (University of Virginia, Charlottesville), and the Wide Field Camera 3 Science Oversight Committee.

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