Arachnophobes beware: Hubble snaps close-up of the Tarantula (w/ Video)

Mar 15, 2011
Hubble has taken this stunning close-up shot of part of the Tarantula Nebula. This star-forming region of ionised hydrogen gas is in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a small galaxy which neighbors the Milky Way. It is home to many extreme conditions including supernova remnants and the heaviest star ever found. The Tarantula Nebula is the most luminous nebula of its type in the local universe. Credit: NASA, ESA

(PhysOrg.com) -- The wispy arms of the Tarantula Nebula were originally thought to resemble spindly spider legs, giving the nebula its unusual name. The part of the nebula visible in this image from Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys is criss-crossed with tendrils of dust and gas churned up by recent supernovae. These supernova remnants include NGC 2060, visible above and to the left of the centre of this image, which contains the brightest known pulsar.

The tarantula's bite goes beyond NGC 2060. Near the edge of the nebula, outside the frame, below and to the right, lie the remains of supernova SN 1987a, the closest supernova to Earth to be observed since the invention of telescopes in the 17th century. Hubble and other telescopes have been returning to spy on this regularly since it blew up in 1987, and each subsequent visit shows an expanding shockwave lighting up the gas around the star, creating a pearl necklace of glowing pockets of gas around the remains of the star. SN 1987a is visible in wide field images of the nebula, such as that taken by the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope.

Together with dying stars, the Tarantula Nebula is packed with which have recently formed from the nebula's supply of . These toddler-stars shine forth with intense that ionises the gas, making it light up red. The light is so intense that although around 170 000 light-years distant, and outside the , the Tarantula Nebula is nevertheless visible without a telescope on a dark night to Earth-bound observers. This nebula might be far away, but it is the most luminous example of its type that astronomers have observed in the local Universe.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
The Hubblecast's Joe Liske (Dr J) takes us on a tour of the Tarantula Nebula. Bright star forming gas clouds, super star clusters and supernova remnants are just some of the sights in this dramatic region of the night sky. Credit: ESA/Hubble

A compact and extremely bright star cluster called RMC 136 lies above and to the left of this field of view, providing much of the radiation that powers the multi-coloured glow. Until recently, astronomers debated whether the source of the intense light was a tightly bound cluster of , or perhaps an unknown type of super-star thousands of times bigger than the Sun. It is only in the last 20 years, with the fine detail revealed by Hubble and the latest generation of ground-based telescopes, that astronomers have been able to conclusively prove that it is, indeed, a star cluster.

But even if the Tarantula Nebula doesn't contain this hypothetical super-star, it still hosts some extreme phenomena, making it a popular target for telescopes. Within the bright star cluster lies star RMC 136a1, which was recently found to be the heaviest ever discovered, at around 300 times the mass of the Sun at its birth. This heavyweight is challenging astronomers' theories of star formation, smashing through the upper limit they thought existed on star mass.

Explore further: Fermi satellite detects gamma-rays from exploding novae

Related Stories

New portrait of Omega Nebula's glistening watercolors

Jul 07, 2009

The Omega Nebula, sometimes called the Swan Nebula, is a dazzling stellar nursery located about 5500 light-years away towards the constellation of Sagittarius (the Archer). An active star-forming region of ...

Stellar Powerhouses in the Eagle Nebula

Jan 04, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- A spectacular section of the well-known Eagle Nebula has been targeted by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. This collection of dazzling stars is called NGC 6611, an open star cluster that ...

An Eagle of Cosmic Proportions

Jul 16, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Today ESO has released a new and stunning image of the sky around the Eagle Nebula, a stellar nursery where infant star clusters carve out monster columns of dust and gas.

Breaking waves in the stellar lagoon (w/ Video)

Sep 22, 2010

The Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) on the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has captured a dramatic view of gas and dust sculpted by intense radiation from hot young stars deep in the heart of the Lagoon ...

Ambitious survey spots stellar nurseries

Aug 11, 2010

Astronomers scanning the skies as part of ESO's VISTA Magellanic Cloud survey have now obtained a spectacular picture of the Tarantula Nebula in our neighboring galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud. This panoramic ...

Strong winds over the keel

Feb 12, 2009

The large and beautiful image displays the full variety of this impressive skyscape, spattered with clusters of young stars, large nebulae of dust and gas, dust pillars, globules, and adorned by one of the ...

Recommended for you

Fermi satellite detects gamma-rays from exploding novae

2 hours ago

The Universe is home to a variety of exotic objects and beautiful phenomena, some of which can generate almost inconceivable amounts of energy. ASU Regents' Professor Sumner Starrfield is part of a team that ...

Image: Hubble serves a slice of stars

9 hours ago

The thin, glowing streak slicing across this image cuts a lonely figure, with only a few foreground stars and galaxies in the distant background for company.

Evidence of a local hot bubble carved by a supernova

Jul 30, 2014

I spent this past weekend backpacking in Rocky Mountain National Park, where although the snow-swept peaks and the dangerously close wildlife were staggering, the night sky stood in triumph. Without a fire, ...

Astronomers measure weight of galaxies, expansion of universe

Jul 30, 2014

Astronomers at the University of British Columbia have collaborated with international researchers to calculate the precise mass of the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies, dispelling the notion that the two galaxies have similar ...

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Nikola
5 / 5 (4) Mar 15, 2011
Hubble: worth every penny!
GeeDoubleYa
not rated yet Mar 15, 2011
This Hubble image plus 'wallpapers' for your PC at:

http://www.spacet...ic1105a/
El_Nose
not rated yet Mar 15, 2011
- i am immature - and i know it -

but every reference to a pearl necklace in an article make me giggle