IT SEEMS HARD TO BELIEVE, but the Hubble Space Telescope has now been in orbit for 22 years. In that time it has advanced our understanding of the universe overall and of the stars, galaxies and nebulae within it.
To celebrate it’s birthday, Hubble scientists have released stunning new views of a “starbirth” region deep in the southern sky, known as 30 Doradus.
30 Doradus is part of the Tarantula Nebula, so-called for its resemblance to a spider, with tendrils of interstellar gas extending in many directions.
The Tarantula is located within the Large Magellanic Cloud galaxy, a close neighbour of the Milky Way about 170,000 light-years distant.
The main Hubble image is made up of many separate images “stitched” together. In fact, it is one of the largest Hubble images ever produced, and at the distance of the Tarantula covers a field 650 light-years across.
This starbirth region is home to numerous stars, young and old, big and small. Near the nebula’s heart is a star cluster called R136. It used to be thought that R136 contained the largest known star in the universe, R136a at 1,500 the mass of the Sun. It has since been determined, however, that R136a is itself a tight cluster of stars. Nevertheless, one of those stars, R136a1, is still the largest known at 265 times the mass of the Sun and 8,700,000 it’s brightness.
The radiance from all the stars has carved out intricate voids and valleys within the surrounding gas, and in some cases formed shockwaves or regions of increased gas density that could be triggering the inward collapse of gas clumps to form new stars.
See more and larger images of 30 Doradus at HubbleSite.
Story by Jonathan Nally. Images credit: NASA, ESA, D. Lennon and E. Sabbi (ESA/STScI), J. Anderson, S. E. de Mink, R. van der Marel, T. Sohn, and N. Walborn (STScI), N. Bastian (Excellence Cluster, Munich), L. Bedin (INAF, Padua), E. Bressert (ESO), P. Crowther (University of Sheffield), A. de Koter (University of Amsterdam), C. Evans (UKATC/STFC, Edinburgh), A. Herrero (IAC, Tenerife), N. Langer (AifA, Bonn), I. Platais (JHU), and H. Sana (University of Amsterdam), and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
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