A spectacular photograph of the turbulent star-forming hotspot called 30 Doradus in the heart of the Tarantula Nebula was released on 24 April 2012 to mark the 22nd anniversary of NASA/ESA’s space telescope Hubble. 30 Doradus is the brightest star-forming region in our part of the galaxy.
The photograph was taken by a team of international astronomers, among them Selma de Mink and
Roeland van der Marel from the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, USA, and Alex de Koter and
Hugues Sana at the University of Amsterdam.
The Tarantula Nebula is located 170,000 light years away from earth in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way. The photograph comprises one of the most colossal mosaics ever composed on the basis of Hubble images. It is based on observations with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 and its Advanced Camera for Surveys, combined with those of ESO’s MPG/ESO 2 two-metre telescope. The image covers a region of 650 light years and is made up of rambunctious stars ranging from the fastest rotating stars to the fastest ‘runway’ stars. The total mass of these stars is millions of times larger than that of the sun. With the star-forming region so close, the Hubble images provide astronomers with a wealth of detailed information about star-formation and the evolution of stars. The rapid pace of star formations in 30 Doradus is partly fuelled by the proximity of the Small Magellanic Cloud.
The image shows various stages of the star life cycle ranging from stars a mere few thousand years old that are still enshrouded in dust and gas to behemoths that die young in supernova explosions. 30 Doradus is a stellar breeding ground that gives birth to stars at a rapid pace. The age of the visible star clusters varies from two to 25 million years. The sparkling centrepiece is the colossal star cluster called NGC 2050, which is a mere two to three million years old, containing roughly 500,000 stars. The dense core (RMC136) contains several of the most massive stars in the nearby universe. some of which total 100 times the sun’s mass. The black stars leave deep tracks in the surrounding matter by emitting flows of ultraviolet light creating a fantasy landscape with pillars, ridges and valleys. A wave of new births could emerge in the dense gas regions.
The colours correspond with the gas dominant in a certain region: hydrogen appears as red and oxygen as blue. The image is composed of 30 separate fields. Hubble’s observations captured by images on both cameras date from October 2011.