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Hubble's Panoramic Portrait of a Vast Star Forming Region.
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has snapped a panoramic portrait of a vast,
sculpted landscape of gas and dust where thousands of stars are being born.
This fertile star-forming region, called the 30 Doradus Nebula, has a
sparkling stellar centerpiece: the most spectacular cluster of massive stars
in our cosmic neighborhood of about 25 galaxies.
The mosaic picture shows that ultraviolet radiation and high-speed material
unleashed by the stars in the cluster, called R136 [the large blue blob left
of center], are weaving a tapestry of creation and destruction, triggering
the collapse of looming gas and dust clouds and forming pillar-like
structures that are incubators for nascent stars.
The photo offers an unprecedented, detailed view of the entire inner region
of 30 Doradus, measuring 200 light-years wide by 150 light-years high. The
nebula resides in the Large Magellanic Cloud (a satellite galaxy of the
Milky Way), 170,000 light-years from Earth.
Nebulas like 30 Doradus are the "signposts" of recent star birth.
High-energy ultraviolet radiation from the young, hot, massive stars in
R136 causes the surrounding gaseous material to glow. Previous Hubble
telescope observations showed that R136 contains several dozen of the most
massive stars known, each about 100 times the mass of the Sun and about 10
times as hot. These stellar behemoths all formed at the same time about
2 million years ago.
The stars in R136 are producing intense "stellar winds" (streams of material
traveling at several million miles an hour), which are wreaking havoc on the
gas and dust in the surrounding neighborhood. The winds are pushing the gas
away from the cluster and compressing the inner regions of the surrounding
gas and dust clouds [the pinkish material]. The intense pressure is
triggering the collapse of parts of the clouds, producing a new generation
of star formation around the central cluster. The new stellar nursery is
about 30 to 50 light-years from R136. Most of the stars in the nursery are
not visible because they are still encased in their cocoons of gas and dust.
Some of the nascent stars are forming in long columns of gas and dust.
Previous Hubble observations revealed that the process of "triggered" star
formation often involves massive pillars of material that point toward the
central cluster. Such pillars form when particularly dense clouds of gas and
dust shield columns of material behind them from the blistering radiation and
strong winds released by massive stars, like the stars in R136. This protected
material becomes the pillars where stars can form and grow. The Hubble
telescope first spied these pillars of stellar creation when it captured
close-up views of the Eagle Nebula.
The new image of 30 Doradus shows numerous pillars -- each about several
light-years long -- oriented toward the central cluster. These pillars, which
resemble tiny fingers, are similar in size to those in the Eagle Nebula. Without
Hubble's resolution, they would not be visible. One pillar is visible within the
oval-shaped structure to the left of the cluster. Two [one dark and one bright]
are next to each other below and to the right of the cluster. One pillar is at
upper right, and still another is just above the cluster.
Newborn stars within most of these pillars already have been discovered in
pictures taken by Hubble's infrared camera, the Near Infrared Camera and
Multi-Object Spectrometer, which can penetrate the dust to detect embryonic
stars. Eventually, intense radiation and stellar winds from the developing stars
will blow off the tops of the pillars. The Hubble image shows that one such
eruption already has occurred in 30 Doradus. A trio of young stars has just
been "born" by breaking out of its natal pillar. These new stars are just a
few hundred thousand years old.
In another 2 million years, the new generation of stars will be in full bloom.
But the massive stars in R136 will have burned themselves out. And the nebula's
central region will be a giant shell, devoid of gas and dust. Still later, all
of the most massive stars and gas will have disappeared from the entire region.
Only older, less massive stars will remain in a region cleared of gas and dust.
The mosaic image of 30 Doradus consists of five overlapping pictures taken
between January 1994 and September 2000 by Hubble's Wide Field and Planetary
Camera 2. Several color filters were used to enhance important details in the
stars and the nebula. Blue corresponds to the hot stars. The greenish color
denotes hot gas energized by the central cluster of stars. Pink depicts the
glowing edges of the gas and dust clouds facing the cluster, which are being
bombarded by winds and radiation. Reddish-brown represents the cooler surfaces
of the clouds, which are not receiving direct radiation from the central cluster.
July 26, 2001
Credits: NASA, N. Walborn and J. Ma`iz-Apell`aniz (Space Telescope Science
Institute, Baltimore, MD), R. Barb`a (La Plata Observatory, La Plata, Argentina)