Image of the Day: Ghost Bubbles of the Tarantula Nebula

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The Tarantula Nebula about 160,000 light years from Earth in the southern constellation of Dorado is the most active starburst region known in the Local Group of galaxies. The nebula resides on the leading edge of the LMC, where ram pressure stripping, and the compression of the interstellar medium is at a maximum. At its core lies the compact star cluster R136 that produces most of the energy that makes the nebula visible. The estimated mass of the cluster is 450,000 solar masses, suggesting it will likely become a globular cluster in the future.

The enormous stars in the nebula are producing intense radiation and searing winds of multimillion-degree gas that carve out gigantic bubbles in the surrounding cooler gas and dust. Other massive stars have raced through their evolution and exploded catastrophically as supernovae, expanding these bubbles into X-ray-brightened superbubbles. They leave behind pulsars as beacons of their former lives and expanding supernova remnants that trigger the collapse of giant clouds of dust and gas to form new generations of stars.

At the center of the nebula, also known as 30 Doradus lies the star cluster R136 at the intersection of three of these superbubbles. However, with ages only between one and two million years old, the stars in R136 are too young to be source of the supernovae that brighten the superbubbles in X-rays. Instead, R136 is most likely just the latest cluster to form in 30 Doradus. It may be as massive as it is because these superbubbles have combined to concentrate their gas in this region and thus triggered intense star formation there.


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