Are you bothered by spiders? Then you might want to take a step back from the web as you view the latest Hubble Space Telescope image - the Tarantula Nebula. In this best-ever view, the imaging team has given us an unprecedented look into a stellar gem, filled with sparkling star clusters, brightly glowing gas and mysterious dark dust. In an effort to further understand what makes this star-forming region tick, astronomers are mapping its components in a study called the Hubble Tarantula Treasury Project. The goal of the HTTP is to scan the millions of stars within the Tarantula, mapping out the locations and properties of the nebula's stellar inhabitants. These observations will help astronomers to piece together an understanding of the nebula's skeleton.
Located about 160,000 light years away in the constellation of Doradus, this glowing treasure is cataloged as NGC 2070 and is a member of the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC). It's an area so bright that it was once thought to be a star, but Nicolas Louis de Lacaille found it nebulous in nature with his tiny telescope back in 1751. Just how bright is it? Astronomers believe if it were as close to Earth as the Orion Nebula that it would be bright enough to cause shadows!
Even though the Tarantula has been imaged by the Hubble before, in 2004, 2010, 2011 and 2012, this new collection of photons takes an even closer look at this turbulent region, giving us the ""deepest and most detailed view yet."" This image includes both near-infrared observations from both Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) and Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS). The soft, violet hues scattered throughout the photo are the result of a combination of infrared filters, while the red ribbons signify the presence of dust. What's more, there are electrifyingly bright stars to help illuminate the scene.
What we are looking at is a prime example of an HII region. This is a huge, deep spread of partially ionized hydrogen gas. Here the low-density cloud is producing new stars, its fanciful shape caused by the random pattern of stars inside it. Just to the left of center you'll spy an incredibly tight star cluster known as R136. Its members are so close together that it was once thought to be a single star! Astronomers found it to be a mystery - they didn't understand how a lone, monstrous star could be able to ionize such a huge HII area. It didn't take long to figure out this was actually a cluster of stars: a ""super star cluster.""
Immense HII regions like the one seen in the Tarantula Nebula may be capable of birthing thousands of stars in just several million years. In this case, super star cluster R136 will some day grow up to be a globular cluster - a spherical collection of stars which orbits the center of its parent galaxy. Is this a spider's egg sack? You bet. R136 is so huge that it's responsible for the majority of the energy that causes the nebula to be so easily seen.
The studies of NGC 2070 will give us an even better understanding of star-forming regions as the Hubble Tarantula Treasury Project (HTTP) continues to scan and photograph several of the stars within it. These upcoming images will map out the locations and properties of those stars, giving astronomers a clearer understanding of the Tarantula's structure. Until then, we'll simply enjoy our journey into an intergalactic insect's web and thank the Hubble for the incredible inside view!
Tarantula Nebula imaged from South Africa by AstroTanja.
Original Story Source: Space Telescope.org
Tammy is a professional astronomy author, President Emeritus of Warren Rupp Observatory and retired Astronomical League Executive Secretary. She's received a vast number of astronomy achievement and observing awards, including the Great Lakes Astronomy Achievement Award, RG Wright Service Award and the first woman astronomer to achieve Comet Hunter's Gold Status.