This bizarre 'superbubble' spotted by the Hubble Space Telescope has scientists scratching their heads

A Hubble Space Telescope image of a nebula called N44.
A Hubble Space Telescope image of a nebula called N44. (Image credit: NASA, ESA, V. Ksoll and D. Gouliermis (Universität Heidelberg), et al.; Processing: Gladys Kober (NASA/Catholic University of America))

Wispy clouds of gas and a strange "superbubble" dominate the view of a new Hubble Space Telescope image.

The view stars a nebula, or gas cloud, known as N44, that is located in a nearby galaxy called the Large Magellanic Cloud. In the newly released image, you can see hydrogen gas glowing in the dark, along with dark dust lanes and stars of all ages, in a complex structure roughly 170,000 light-years from Earth.

NASA said the "superbubble," which appears in the upper central part of the gas cloud, is of particular interest because scientists are trying to figure out how the 250-light-year wide structure formed.

Related: The best Hubble Space Telescope images of all time!

Here's a full view of the "superbubble" nebula N44 spotted by the Hubble Space Telescope. (Image credit: NASA, ESA, V. Ksoll and D. Gouliermis (Universität Heidelberg), et al.; Processing: Gladys Kober (NASA/Catholic University of America))

"Its presence is still something of a mystery," agency personnel wrote in a statement, explaining there are two leading hypotheses. One is that huge stars blew away the gas with stellar winds, but the wind velocities measured there are "inconsistent" with what the models suggest, according to the statement.

Another possibility is perhaps a dying star's explosion, known as a supernova, caused the hollow in the gas. Lending credence to the supernova theory is evidence of at least one supernova remnant near the superbubble.

Astronomers spotted a 5-million-year-old difference between stars within the superbubble and stars at the rim of the superbubble. NASA said this age difference suggests "multiple, chain-reaction star-forming events" and pointed to a zone of intense star formation at the lower right of the superbubble, which appears in deep blue in the Hubble Space Telescope image.

The glowing gas of N44 pegs it as an emission nebula, a type of gas cloud that has the molecules energized by star radiation. The gas emits light energy as it begins cooling, producing the glowing effect.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: