Tarantula Nebula – 30 Doradus

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The Tarantula Nebula is a large emission nebula located in the southern constellation Dorado. The star-forming region lies within the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a small satellite galaxy of the Milky Way and one of the nearest galaxies to our own, located on the border between Dorado and Mensa. The nebula is also known as 30 Doradus. It has the designation NGC 2070 in the New General Catalogue.

The Tarantula Nebula is one of the better known nebulae not listed in the Messier catalogue. It is the most active region of star formation known in the Local Group of galaxies, as well as one of the largest, spanning 600 light years, or 13 arc minutes across the sky. The nebula contains more than 800,000 stars and protostars. The newly formed stars are frequently hidden within clouds of dust and can only be seen in infrared wavelengths.

30 doradus,emission nebula,ngc 2070

Located inside the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) – one of our closest galaxies – in what some describe as a frightening sight, the Tarantula nebula is worth looking at in detail. Also known as 30 Doradus or NGC 2070, the nebula owes its name to the arrangement of its bright patches that somewhat resemble the legs of a tarantula. Taking the name of one of the biggest spiders on Earth is very fitting in view of the gigantic proportions of this celestial nebula — it measures nearly 1,000 light years across ! Its proximity, the favourable inclination of the LMC, and the absence of intervening dust make this nebula one of the best laboratories to better understand the formation of massive stars. This spectacular nebula is energised by an exceptionally high concentration of massive stars, often referred to as super star clusters. Image: ESO/IDA/Danish 1.5 m/R. Gendler, C. C. Thöne, C. Féron, and J.-E. Ovaldsen

The nebula is extremely luminous. It lies at a distance of 160,000 light years from Earth and has an apparent magnitude of 8. Because it lies so far to the south, it is visible primarily from southern latitudes.

If it were as close to the solar system as the Orion Nebula, the Tarantula Nebula would be so bright that it would cast shadows. The Orion Nebula, while more famous, especially in the northern hemisphere, is only a hundredth the size of 30 Doradus.

The Tarantula Nebula got its name because its glowing filaments of dust resemble the legs of a spider. It is a giant starburst region where the energy from the bright, hot young stars creates huge voids and filaments in the surrounding clouds of gas.

The Tarantula Nebula contains two clusters. The compact cluster R136 is responsible for most of the energy that illuminates the nebula, and by extension for the nebula’s visibility.

super star cluster,tarantula nebula

A Hubble Space Telescope image of the R136 super star cluster, near the center of the 30 Doradus Nebula, also known as the Tarantula Nebula or NGC 2070. Image: NASA, ESA, F. Paresce (INAF-IASF, Bologna, Italy), R. O’Connell (University of Virginia, Charlottesville), and the Wide Field Camera 3 Science Oversight Committee

R136 contains several extremely huge stars, roughly 100 times the mass of the Sun. The cluster has an estimated mass of 450,000 solar masses and a diameter of 35 light years. It will likely eventually become a globular cluster, a group of old stars orbiting the centre of the Large Magellanic Cloud.

Hodge 301, the other star cluster in NGC 2070, is older, with an estimated age of 20 to 25 million years. It is almost 10 times older than R136. Hodge 301 contains a number of brilliant massive stars.

super star cluster,tarantula nebula

Part of the Tarantula Nebula, a giant HII region in the Large Magellanic Cloud. The star cluster at the lower right is Hodge 301. Image: The Hubble Heritage Team (AURA / STScI / NASA)

The cluster’s most massive stars have already ended their life in supernova explosions. Three red supergiants found in the cluster are also expected to explode in the near future, relatively speaking. The exploded stars in Hodge 301 are sending material into the surrounding nebula at speeds approaching 200 miles per second.

As the Tarantula Nebula contains the nearest super-cluster of stars, it is an object of study for astronomers studying the starburst activity that was more common in the earlier stages of the universe. The nebula’s environment resembles the extreme conditions of the early universe in terms of dust content, metallicity, and rate of star formation.

The Tarantula Nebula is located at the eastern end of the stellar bar in the Large Magellanic Cloud, which contains a number of similar regions, but none of them quite and bright and large as the Tarantula.

FACTS

30 Doradus is an excellent example of an H-II region, a starburst region in which hydrogen gas is ionized by photons from the embedded stars.

The main sources of the nebula’s light are the hot, young blue supergiants embedded within the nebula’s central core. The Tarantula Nebula is producing hundreds of thousands of stars, which is significantly more than most nebulae.

The Tarantula Nebula was originally thought to be a star. In 1751, the French astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille was the first to recognize its nebular nature.

tarantula nebula,30 doradus,ngc 2070

Central portion of the Tarantula Nebula. “This mosaic of the Tarantula Nebula consists of images from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) and was created by 23 year old amateur astronomer Danny LaCrue. … Additional image processing was done by the Hubble European Space Agency Information Centre.” Image: ESA/NASA, ESO and Danny LaCrue

30 Doradus was the site of the closest supernova seen since the invention of the telescope.

In 1987, the Supernova 1987A (SN 1987A) was observed in the nebula’s outer regions, approximately 168,000 light years from Earth.

SN 1987A,supernova,type II supernova

1987A supernova remnant near the center. Composite of two public domain NASA images taken from the Hubble Space Telescope. First image: Dr. Christopher Burrows, ESA/STScI and NASA; Second image: Hubble Heritage team.

The supernova was discovered in late February and reached a peak apparent magnitude of about 3 in May before its brightness declined in the following months. Stars that end their life in such explosions generally only live for a few million years and don’t travel far from the site where they were formed.

Starburst activity in the Tarantula Nebula started tens of millions of years ago. The star forming regions will likely merge into larger star clusters in the future. Some of the fuel for the star birth activity may come from the gas stripped from the Small Magellanic Cloud, a nearby dwarf galaxy, located in the constellation Tucana.

R136,star cluster

A new near-infrared image of the R136 cluster, obtained at high resolution with the MAD adaptive optics instrument at ESO’s Very Large Telescope, provides unique details of its stellar content. At birth, the three brightest stars each weighed more than 150 times the mass of the Sun. The most massive star, known as R136a1 and located at the centre of the image, has been found to have a current mass of 265 times that of the Sun. It also has the highest luminosity, close to ten million times greater than the Sun. Image: ESO/P. Crowther/C.J. Evans

The central region of the Tarantula Nebula contains thousands of massive stars which are blasting away material and generating intense radiation as well as strong stellar winds. These winds and the supernova explosions in the region heat up the gas to millions of degrees.

The star R136a1, a member of the R136 super star cluster, is one of the most massive and luminous stars known. It has a mass 265 times that of the Sun and is 8.7 million times more luminous.

The star has 35.4 times the Sun’s radius and an estimated surface temperature of 53,000 K. R136a1 is a Wolf-Rayet star, an evolved, massive, extremely hot star which is rapidly losing mass as a result of a strong stellar wind.

About 30 pc to the northeast of the R136 cluster, astronomers found another extremely massive, luminous Wolf-Rayet star. VFTS 682 has a mass about 150 times that of the Sun and a radius 22 times solar.

wolf-rayet star

Tarantula Nebula – At the exact centre lies the brilliant but isolated star VFTS 682 and to its lower right the very rich star cluster R 136. The origins of VFTS are unclear — was it ejected from R 136 or did it form on its own? The star appears yellow-red in this view, which includes both visible-light and infrared images from the Wide Field Imager at the 2.2-metre MPG/ESO telescope at La Silla and the 4.1-metre infrared VISTA telescope at Paranal, because of the effects of dust. Image: ESO/M.-R. Cioni/VISTA Magellanic Cloud survey. Acknowledgment: Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit

The star lies at a distance of 164,000 light years from Earth. It has a visual magnitude of 16.08 and belongs to the spectral class WN5h.

VFTS 682 is 3.2 million times more luminous than the Sun and has an estimated surface temperature of 52,200 K. The star is isolated, but has a near identical twin in one of the massive stars in the centre of the R136 cluster.

NGC 2060 is another interesting object in the Tarantula Nebula. It is the remnant of a supernova that occurred in the Large Magellanic Cloud some 5,000 years ago. The designation NGC 2060 is also used for the associated star cluster. The supernova remnant was discovered by the English astronomer John Herschel in 1836.

In 1998, a pulsar was discovered inside NGC 2060, and given the designation PSR J0537-6910. The pulsar has a rotational period of 18 ms.

tarantula nebula,30 doradus,ngc 2070

Hubble has taken this stunning close-up shot of part of the Tarantula Nebula, the most luminous nebula of its type in the local Universe. Image: NASA, ESA

Tarantula Nebula – 30 Doradus (NGC 2070)

Type: Emission nebula
Constellation: Dorado
Coordinates: 05h 38m 38s (right ascension), -69°05.7′ (declination)
Distance: 160,000 light years (49 kpc)
Visual magnitude: 8.0
Absolute magnitude: -11.7
Radius: 300 light years
Apparent dimensions: 40′ x25′
Designations: Tarantula Nebula, 30 Doradus, NGC 2070

VIDEO

IMAGES

tarantula nebula,starburst nebula

This first light image of the TRAPPIST national telescope at La Silla shows the Tarantula Nebula, located in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) — one of the galaxies closest to us. Also known as 30 Doradus or NGC 2070, the nebula owes its name to the arrangement of bright patches that somewhat resembles the legs of a tarantula. Taking the name of one of the biggest spiders on Earth is very fitting in view of the gigantic proportions of this celestial nebula — it measures nearly 1000 light-years across! Its proximity, the favourable inclination of the LMC, and the absence of intervening dust make this nebula one of the best laboratories to help understand the formation of massive stars better. The image was made from data obtained through three filters (B, V and R) and the field of view is about 20 arcminutes across. Image: TRAPPIST/E. Jehin/ESO

30 doradus

This new Hubble image shows a cosmic creepy-crawly known as the Tarantula Nebula in infrared light. This region is full of star clusters, glowing gas, and thick dark dust. Created using observations taken as part of the Hubble Tarantula Treasury Project (HTTP), this image was snapped using Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) and Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS). The Hubble Tarantula Treasury Project (HTTP) is scanning and imaging many of the many 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, viewing its starry structure. Image: NASA, ESA, E. Sabbi (STScI)

The star-forming region, 30 Doradus, is one of the largest located close to the Milky Way and is found in the neighboring galaxy Large Magellanic Cloud. About 2,400 massive stars in the center of 30 Doradus, also known as the Tarantula Nebula, are producing intense radiation and powerful winds as they blow off material. Multimillion-degree gas detected in X-rays (blue) by the Chandra X-ray Observatory comes from shock fronts -- similar to sonic booms --formed by these stellar winds and by supernova explosions. This hot gas carves out gigantic bubbles in the surrounding cooler gas and dust shown here in infrared emission from the Spitzer Space Telescope (orange). The Tarantula Nebula is expanding, and researchers have recently published two studies that attempt to determine what drives this growth. The most recent study concluded that the evolution and the large-scale structure of 30 Doradus is determined by the bubbles of hot, X-ray bright gas confined by surrounding gas, and that pressure from radiation generated by massive stars does not currently play an important role in shaping the overall structure. A study published earlier in 2011 came to the opposite conclusion and argued that radiation pressure is more important than pressure from hot gas in driving the evolution of 30 Doradus, especially in the central regions near the massive stars. Image: X-ray: NASA/CXC/PSU/L. Townsley et al.; Infrared: NASA/JPL/PSU/L. Townsley et al.

The star-forming region, 30 Doradus, is one of the largest located close to the Milky Way and is found in the neighboring galaxy Large Magellanic Cloud. About 2,400 massive stars in the center of 30 Doradus, also known as the Tarantula Nebula, are producing intense radiation and powerful winds as they blow off material. Multimillion-degree gas detected in X-rays (blue) by the Chandra X-ray Observatory comes from shock fronts — similar to sonic booms –formed by these stellar winds and by supernova explosions. This hot gas carves out gigantic bubbles in the surrounding cooler gas and dust shown here in infrared emission from the Spitzer Space Telescope (orange). 30 Doradus is also known as an HII (pronounced “H-two”) region, created when the radiation from hot, young stars strips away the electrons from neutral hydrogen atoms (HI) to form clouds of ionized hydrogen (HII). It is the most massive and largest HII region in the Local Group of galaxies, which contains the Milky Way, Andromeda and about 30 other smaller galaxies including the two Magellanic Clouds. Because of its proximity and size, 30 Doradus is an excellent target for studying the effects of massive stars on the evolution of an HII region. The Tarantula Nebula is expanding, and researchers have recently published two studies that attempt to determine what drives this growth. The most recent study concluded that the evolution and the large-scale structure of 30 Doradus is determined by the bubbles of hot, X-ray bright gas confined by surrounding gas, and that pressure from radiation generated by massive stars does not currently play an important role in shaping the overall structure. A study published earlier in 2011 came to the opposite conclusion and argued that radiation pressure is more important than pressure from hot gas in driving the evolution of 30 Doradus, especially in the central regions near the massive stars. More detailed analysis and deeper Chandra observations of 30 Doradus may help decide between these different ideas. Image: X-ray: NASA/CXC/PSU/L. Townsley et al.; Infrared: NASA/JPL/PSU/L. Townsley et al.

tarantula nebula,ngc 2070,starburst region

Several million young stars are vying for attention in this NASA Hubble Space Telescope image of a raucous stellar breeding ground in 30 Doradus, located in the heart of the Tarantula Nebula. Early astronomers nicknamed the nebula because its glowing filaments resemble spider legs. 30 Doradus is the brightest star-forming region visible in a neighboring galaxy and home to the most massive stars ever seen. The nebula resides 170,000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a small, satellite galaxy of our Milky Way. No known star-forming region in our galaxy is as large or as prolific as 30 Doradus. Collectively, the stars in this image are millions of times more massive than our Sun. The image is roughly 650 light-years across and contains some rambunctious stars, from one of the fastest rotating stars to the speediest and most massive runaway star. The nebula is close enough to Earth that Hubble can resolve individual stars, giving astronomers important information about the stars’ birth and evolution. Many small galaxies have more spectacular starbursts, but the Large Magellanic Cloud’s 30 Doradus is one of the only extragalactic star-forming regions that astronomers can study in so much detail. The star-birthing frenzy in 30 Doradus may be partly fueled by its close proximity to its companion galaxy, the Small Magellanic Cloud. The image reveals the stages of star birth, from embryonic stars a few thousand years old still wrapped in cocoons of dark gas to behemoths that die young in supernova explosions. 30 Doradus is a star-forming factory, churning out stars at a furious pace over millions of years. Hubble shows star clusters of various ages, from about 2 million to about 25 million years old. The region’s sparkling centerpiece is a giant, young star cluster (left of center) named NGC 2070, only 2 million years old. Its stellar inhabitants number roughly 500,000. The cluster is a hotbed for young, massive stars. Its dense core, known as R136, is packed with some of the heftiest stars found in the nearby universe, weighing more than 100 times the mass of our Sun. The massive stars are carving deep cavities in the surrounding material by unleashing a torrent of ultraviolet light, which is etching away the enveloping hydrogen gas cloud in which the stars were born. The image reveals a fantasy landscape of pillars, ridges, and valleys. Besides sculpting the gaseous terrain, the brilliant stars also may be triggering a successive generation of offspring. When the radiation hits dense walls of gas, it creates shocks, which may be generating a new wave of star birth. Image: NASA, ESA, ESO, 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 (Sheffield), A. de Koter (Amsterdam), C. Evans (UKATC/STFC, Edinburgh), A. Herrero (IAC, Tenerife), N. Langer (AifA, Bonn), I. Platais (JHU) and H. Sana (Amsterdam)

R136,super star cluster,tarantula nebula

Three-color image of the Tarantula Nebula in the Large Magellanic Cloud. The image is based on observations made on 10 February 2002 and 22 March 2003 with the FORS1 multi-mode instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope in three different narrow-band filters (centred on 485 nm, 503 nm, and 657 nm), for a total exposure time slightly above 3 minutes only. The data were extracted from the ESO Science Archive and processed by Henri Boffin (ESO). In the centre is star cluster R136, which in turn contains the compact cluster R136a as an unresolved blob here. Image: ESO

tarantula nebula,ngc 2070

One square degree image of the Tarantula Nebula and its surroundings. The spidery nebula is seen in the upper-centre of the image. Slightly to the lower-right, a web of filaments harbours the famous supernova SN 1987A (see below). Many other reddish nebulae are visible in the image, as well as a cluster of young stars on the left, known as NGC 2100. Image: ESO/R. Fosbury

R136,massive star

Using a combination of instruments on ESO’s Very Large Telescope, astronomers have discovered the most massive stars to date, some weighing at birth more than 300 times the mass of the Sun, or twice as much as the currently accepted limit of 150 solar masses. The most extreme of these stars was found in the cluster RMC 136a (or R136 as it is more usually named). Named R136a1, it is found to have a current mass of 265 times that of the Sun. Being a little over a million years old, R136a1 is already “middle-aged” and has undergone an intense weight-loss programme, shedding a fifth of its initial mass over that time, or more than fifty solar masses. It also has the highest luminosity, close to 10 million times greater than the Sun. Image: ESO/P. Crowther/C.J. Evans

R136,runaway star

A heavy runaway star is rushing away from a nearby stellar nursery at more than 250,000 miles an hour, a speed at which one could travel to the our moon and back in two hours. This is the most extreme case of a very massive star that has been kicked out of its home by a group of even heftier siblings. The homeless star is on the outskirts of the 30 Doradus Nebula, a raucous stellar breeding ground in the nearby Large Magellanic Cloud. The stellar nursery is seen at the centre of this image. The finding bolsters evidence that the most massive stars in the local universe reside in 30 Doradus, making it a unique laboratory for studying heavyweight stars. Also called the Tarantula Nebula, 30 Doradus is roughly 170,000 light-years from Earth. Tantalizing clues from three observatories, including the Hubble Space Telescope’s newly installed Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS), and some old- fashioned detective work, suggest that the star may have travelled about 375 light-years from its suspected home, a giant star cluster called R136. Nestled in the core of 30 Doradus, R136 contains several stars topping 100 solar masses each. Image: NASA, ESA, C. Evans (Royal Observatory Edinburgh), N. Walbom (STScI), and ESO

tarantula nebula hubble

To celebrate its 22nd anniversary in orbit, the Hubble Space Telescope released a dramatic new image of the star-forming region 30 Doradus, also known as the Tarantula Nebula because its glowing filaments resemble spider legs. A new image from all three of NASA’s Great Observatories–Chandra, Hubble, and Spitzer–has also been created to mark the event. The nebula is located in the neighboring galaxy called the Large Magellanic Cloud, and is one of the largest star-forming regions located close to the Milky Way. At the center of 30 Doradus, thousands of massive stars are blowing off material and producing intense radiation along with powerful winds. The Chandra X-ray Observatory detects gas that has been heated to millions of degrees by these stellar winds and also by supernova explosions. These X-rays, colored blue in this composite image, come from shock fronts–similar to sonic booms–formed by this high-energy stellar activity. The Hubble data in the composite image, colored green, reveals the light from these massive stars along with different stages of star birth, including embryonic stars a few thousand years old still wrapped in cocoons of dark gas. Infrared emission data from Spitzer, seen in red, shows cooler gas and dust that have giant bubbles carved into them. These bubbles are sculpted by the same searing radiation and strong winds that comes from the massive stars at the center of 30 Doradus. Image: NASA