Lying 170,000 light-years out, in the Large Magellenic Cloud, the Tarantula Nebula is the brightest known nebula in the Local Group of galaxies. Fully 650 light-years across, it’s also the largest. The nebula is so bright, if it were within 1000 light years of Earth, it would cast noticeable shadows on us. Brilliant, wispy clouds of ionized hydrogen in the nebula’s outlying regions are the nurseries of recently formed stars. A new Hubble Space Telescope image clearly shows the effects of powerful ultraviolet radiation from these new stars ionizing the gas around them. But these clouds will be short-lived on the cosmic time scale. Stellar winds from the newborn stars will eventually clear out the gas, leaving behind an irregular star cluster. The main Tarantula Nebula is the scene of a very recent supernova explosion, actually discovered, in 1987, with the naked eye – the closest supernova yet detected since the invention of the telescope.
Located within the Large Magellenic Cloud (170,000 light-years-away from Earth), stellar winds of star birth have shaped an extraordinarily bright space-scape of luminous hydrogen clouds. But those same winds will one day leave a bare star cluster.
Credit: SPACE.com / NASA / Hubble