The spectacular Tarantula Nebula is one of the most breathtaking objects in the Large Magellanic Cloud, the closest galactic neighbor of the Milky Way.
Located some 160,000 light-years away from our planet, in the constellation of Dorado (or The Dolphinfish), the Tarantula Nebula is buzzing with activity and encompasses a myriad of newborn stars.
Just like the much closer (and smaller) Lagoon Nebula, residing at the center of our galaxy in the Sagittarius constellation, the Tarantula Nebula is a large-scale stellar nursery.
According to the European Southern Observatory (ESO), this splendid nebula, also known as 30 Doradus, is one of the most impressive stellar birth regions in the night sky.
With the help of its VLT Survey Telescope (VST) at the Paranal Observatory in Chile, ESO has recently imaged the glorious nebula along with its surrounding field of star clusters and nebulae, in what is described as the “sharpest” photo ever taken of this slice of the far southern sky.
The mesmerizing snapshot, captured by a special camera mounted on the VST, unveils not only the Tarantula Nebula but also its “rich surroundings in exquisite detail,” state ESO officials in a news release.
“It reveals a cosmic landscape of star clusters, glowing gas clouds, and the scattered remains of supernova explosions.”
The newly-released snapshot is a composite of various photos snagged through four different colored filters by the VST’s OmegaCAM, a specially designed 256-megapixel camera capable of capturing the red glow of ionized hydrogen around hot young stars.
The photo provides a cosmic cruise through the “crowded neighborhood” of the Large Magellanic Cloud, a large portion of which is occupied by the Tarantula Nebula.
Imaged at the top of the VST photo, the nebula is more than 1,000 light-years wide and hosts several important star clusters.
At the heart of the Tarantula Nebula lies a young and massive star cluster dubbed NGC 2070. Here, in the cluster’s dense core called R136, are housed some of the most massive and luminous stars ever discovered, ESO points out.
Right above NGC 2070, the photo captures another major star cluster in the Tarantula Nebula, namely Hodge 301. This much older cluster is home to at least 40 supernovae, notes ESO.
One of the more famous supernova remnants in the Tarantula Nebula is the superbubble SNR N157B, pictured below NGC 2070. This superbubble, which is essentially a large cavity created by multiple supernova explosions and filled with hot gas, envelops the open star cluster NGC 2060 — a large group of stars formed from the same molecular cloud that are only loosely tied to each other by gravitation.
Underneath that double feature, the image reveals another famous supernova called SN 1987A. Located on the outskirts of the Tarantula Nebula, this supernova is the first to ever be observed with modern telescopes. It’s also the brightest one that astronomers have detected since the 1604 supernova known as Kepler’s Star, the most recently spotted supernova in the Milky Way.
To the left of the Tarantula Nebula, the new VST image unveils yet another open star cluster, dubbed NGC 2100 — “a brilliant concentration of blue stars surrounded by red stars,” write ESO officials in the photo description.
Under the Tarantula Nebula, the VST’s OmegaCAM spotted a second massive star-forming region, nicknamed NGC 2074. Showcased in the center of the photo, this bright feature is an emission nebula, an interstellar cloud of ionized gas and dust that emits light of various wavelengths.
Right next to the NGC 2074 nebula resides the “Seahorse of the Large Magellanic Cloud,” a gigantic pillar of dust shaped like a seahorse and 20 light-years in length.
The new image takes us on a cosmic trip from our own galaxy all the way through to the nearby Large Magellanic Cloud. This voyage is also depicted in a video that ESO released along with the snapshot and which zooms in on the Tarantula Nebula as pictured above.
Just like the Small Magellanic Cloud, the Large Magellanic Cloud is a satellite to the Milky Way and a dwarf galaxy to boot, stretching only about 14,000 light-years across. By comparison, the Milky Way has a diameter of around 100,000 light-years, notes Gizmodo.