From massive star clusters to sculpted gas embedded with fledgling stars, these four close-up images underscore why 30 Doradus, located in the heart of the Tarantula Nebula, is a star-making factory.
30 Doradus is the brightest, nearby star-forming region and home to the most massive stars in our cosmic neighborhood of about 25 galaxies. The nebula is close enough to Earth that Hubble can resolve individual stars, giving astronomers important information about the stars' birth and evolution. 30 Doradus resides 170,000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a small, satellite galaxy of our Milky Way.
The nebula's sparkling centerpiece is a giant, young star cluster named NGC 2070, only 2 million years old. Its stellar inhabitants number roughly 500,000. The cluster is a hotbed for young, massive stars. The cluster's dense core, known as R136, is packed with some of the heftiest stars found in the nearby universe.
The cluster's core is home to more than 10,000 stars. Several of them may be over 100 times more massive than our Sun. These hefty stars are destined to pop off, like a string of firecrackers, as supernovas in a few million years. Only two or three of the hottest stars in R136 are providing 50 percent of the radiation in the cluster.
The star cluster NGC 2060 is a loose collection of stars that are no longer gravitationally bound to each other. The stellar grouping will disperse in a few million years. It contains a supernova that exploded about 10,000 years ago, blowing out gas surrounding it. The dark region below the cluster is a dense cloud of dust lying in front of it.
The star cluster Hodge 301 is 20 million to 25 million years old. Hodge 301 is home to many aging, red supergiant stars, indicating the cluster is older. Roughly 40 massive stars already have exploded as supernovas. The expanding wave of debris is slamming into gas ejected by stars in R136, creating a ridge of star formation between the two clusters. The fledgling stars are embedded in dense gas and cannot be seen.
This region resembles a coral reef, but the gas has been eroded by the hefty stars in R136, situated above it. Cloaked in gas at the top of this rugged, gaseous terrain are nascent stars that cannot be seen. Dense columns of gas, several light-years long, protrude from the undulating landscape. These gaseous columns are incubators for developing stars.
The images are part of one of the largest mosaics ever assembled from Hubble photos and include observations taken by Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 and Advanced Camera for Surveys. NASA and the Space Telescope Science Institute are releasing the image to celebrate Hubble's 22nd anniversary.
The Hubble observations of 30 Doradus were made in October 2011. Hubble observed 30 separate fields, 15 with each camera.
Credit: 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)