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Hubble’s birthday view of starbirth nebula

Hubble image of 30 Doradus

The amazing twirls and swirls of 30 Doradus, a starbirth region of gas and stars located in the Large Magellanic Cloud galaxy 170,000 light-years from Earth.

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.

Close-up of part of 30 Doradus

This close-up of part of 30 Doradus shows a huge cavity in the gas, carved out by the stellar wind of young, powerful stars.

Hubble image of star cluster Hodge 301

This tight, bright cluster of stars within 30 Doradus is called Hodge 301. Unlike many of the youthful stars in 30 Doradus, many of those in Hodge 301 are ageing, red supergiants.

NGC 2070 with R136

At the heart of this portion of 30 Doradus lies the star cluster R136, which contains many of the heaviest known stars in the local universe.

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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Diamond stars in a sea of colour


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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