Our Image of the Month was released to celebrate the 22nd anniversary of the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and is a striking panoramic look at a stellar nursery which is fizzing and crackling with energy as it pops out thousands of new stars.

image of Hubble panorama of Tarantula nebula

Tides of Light. This image of the Tarantula Nebula comprises one of the largest mosaics ever assembled from Hubble photos and includes observations taken by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 and Advanced Camera for Surveys, combined with observations from the European Southern Observatory’s MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope which trace the location of glowing hydrogen and oxygen. (Image credit: NASA, ESA, ESO, 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 (Sheffield), A. de Koter (Amsterdam), C. Evans (UKATC/STFC, Edinburgh), A. Herrero (IAC, Tenerife), N. Langer (AifA, Bonn), I. Platais (JHU) and H. Sana (Amsterdam))


The small southern hemisphere constellation Dorado represents the oddly dome-headed dolphinfish (not a swordfish as sometimes claimed). Most of the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a small galaxy lying close (about 160 000 light years distant) to the Milky Way can be seen in Dorado.

The LMC is home to several significant stellar nurseries such as the Tarantula Nebula (also known as 30 Doradus), the largest, brightest and most active star-forming region in the Local Group of galaxies and home to the most massive stars ever seen. This nebula blazes with light as it is crammed with young, bright and heavy O and B type stars, these stars spray out ultra-violet radiation and fiercely-blowing stellar winds which not only makes their surrounding gases glow but push the gases away in great expanding hollow shells. These shells collide, forming hotly-glowly cosmic fog banks.

It is clear from this image which spans about 650 light years across that we are looking into a dynamic and chaotic region of space: clustered supernova explosions of massive stars blow away vast billows of dust and gas, and in turn trigger further episodes of star formation. (This nebula is a scene of violence in fiction too: old-time fans of 2000AD comic will remember how Halo Jones’ miserable military career was spent in this region of space.) The image also contains the fastest moving and most massive stars known: it’s all action in the Tarantula Nebula!

Once again, the Hubble Space Telescopes proves itself one of the best uses of taxpayers’ money ever!

(Article  by Colin Johnston, Science Communicator)


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