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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

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a contributing writer for Space.com since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she tackles topics like spaceflight, diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Her latest book, NASA Leadership Moments, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.