Tarantula Nebula and its baby stars sparkles in new Webb image

View larger. | This is the Tarantula Nebula from the NIRCam on the James Webb Space Telescope. The near-infrared view lets us see through the clouds where a star-forming region births young stars. Image via NASA/ ESA/ CSA and STScI.

Webb catches the Tarantula Nebula

The Webb has caught a glorious image of the Tarantula Nebula. On September 6, 2022, NASA and ESA released new images of the Tarantula Nebula, also known as 30 Doradus, and its star-forming region. The James Webb Space Telescope has turned three of its instruments, NIRCam, NIRSpec and MIRI, on this cloudy and starry region that lies in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way.

In the new images, we can see sparkling star-forming regions that were previously hidden behind dust. And the gas and dust tendrils show different structure in the near-infrared of NIRCam and the mid-infrared of MIRI. Plus, we can even see distant background galaxies.

The Tarantula Nebula

The Tarantula Nebula lies 161,000 light-years distant in the LMC, which is in the Southern Hemisphere constellation of Dorado the Goldfish. In fact, this cloudy, dusty stellar nursery is home to the hottest, most massive stars known. By the way, the Tarantula Nebula is not only home to the largest and brightest star-forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud but also in the Local Group, our regional collection of galaxies.

NIRCam’s view of the Tarantula

The image at the top of this article is NIRCam’s near-infrared view of the Tarantula. The hollowed-out region at center shows where fierce radiation from young stars have cleared the area. As well as massive, young stars sparkling in pale blue. ESA said:

Only the densest surrounding areas of the nebula resist erosion by these stars’ powerful stellar winds, forming pillars that appear to point back toward the cluster. These pillars contain forming protostars, which will eventually emerge from their dusty cocoons and take their turn shaping the nebula.

NIRSpec’s view of the Tarantula

NIRSpec is Webb’s Near InfraRed Spectrograph. And the spectrograph spreads light into a spectrum, which allows astronomers to investigate the object’s temperature, mass and chemical composition, for example. So, the young star NIRSpec focused on in the Tarantula Nebula is not yet at the stage where it’s clearing out the space around itself.

View larger. | Webb’s Near-Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec) zeroes in on a small bubble from NIRCam. A powerful wind from the star cluster to its lower right blasts the pillar of dust and gas atop which the bubble sits. Plus, a young star within the bubble resides in its protective cocoon, not yet strong enough to clear its surroundings. Image via NASA/ ESA/ CSA and STScI.

MIRI’s view of the Tarantula

The longer infrared wavelengths that MIRI sees let us look deeper into the Tarantula Nebula. So now we can see cooler areas, where protostars are still gaining mass.

View larger. | Webb’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) takes a good look at the central star cluster of the Tarantula Nebula. This view highlights the glowing gas and dust and its abundant hydrocarbons (blue and purple). And this deeper look lets us see diffuse regions and protostars, such as the region at the top edge, left of center. Plus, dark regions indicate the impenetrable, densest areas of dust (lower right). Image via NASA/ ESA/ CSA and STScI.

Why Webb targeted the Tarantula Nebula

The Tarantula Nebula not only tells us about a massive star-forming region in the nearby universe, but it’s also an example of what was happening during the universe’ cosmic noon. Because this was a time when our universe was a few billion years old and star formation peaked. Besides, our Milky Way doesn’t have a comparable region of furious star formation.

Eventually, astronomers will be able to compare Webb’s images of the Tarantula Nebula with images of star-forming regions it sees in the earlier universe.

Bottom line: The James Webb Space Telescope has captured images of the Tarantula Nebula, revealing stellar nurseries and protostars. This star-forming region lies in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way.



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