Hubble's Panoramic View of the Tarantula Nebula

  • Released Monday, February 27th, 2017
  • Updated Tuesday, November 14th, 2023 at 12:32AM

Several million young stars are vying for attention in this NASA Hubble Space Telescope image of a raucous stellar breeding ground. Early astronomers gave the nebula its "tarantula" nickname because the glowing filaments of gas resemble spider legs. The nebula is located in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a small compainon galaxy to our Milky Way galaxy. This star-forming region is the brightest visible in a neighboring galaxy and is home to the most massive stars ever seen.

The nebula is close enough to Earth that Hubble can resolve individual stars, giving astronomers important information about the stars' birth and evolution. It is one of only a few star-forming regions outside of our galaxy that astronomers can study in so much detail. The star-birthing frenzy may be partly fueled by its close proximity to another companion galaxy, the Small Magellanic Cloud.

The image reveals the stages of star birth, from embryonic stars a few thousand years old still wrapped in cocoons of dark gas to behemoths that die young in supernova explosions. In this star-forming factory, Hubble shows star clusters of various ages, from about 2 million to about 25 million years old.

The region's sparkling centerpiece is a giant, young star cluster (left of center) named NGC 2070, only 2 million years old. Its stellar inhabitants number roughly 500,000. The cluster is a hotbed for young, massive stars. Its dense core, known as R136, is packed with some of the heftiest stars found in the nearby universe, weighing more than 100 times the mass of our Sun.

The massive stars are carving deep cavities in the surrounding material by unleashing a torrent of ultraviolet light, Besides sculpting the gaseous terrain, the brilliant stars also may be triggering a successive generation of offspring. When the radiation hits dense walls of gas, it creates shocks, which may be generating a new wave of star birth.

The colors represent the hot gas that dominates regions of the image. Red signifies hydrogen gas and blue, oxygen.

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Please give credit for this item to:
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)


This visualization is related to the following missions: