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James Webb Space Telescope snaps mind-boggling image of Tarantula Nebula

In this mosaic image stretching 340 light-years across, Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) displays the Tarantula Nebula star-forming region in a new light, including tens of thousands of never-before-seen young stars that were previously shrouded in cosmic dust.
In this mosaic image stretching 340 light-years across, Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) displays the Tarantula Nebula star-forming region in a new light, including tens of thousands of never-before-seen young stars that were previously shrouded in cosmic dust. (Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO Production Team)

The James Webb Space Telescope has delivered a spectacular and unprecedented view of a star-forming region known as the Tarantula Nebula.

A combination of the James Webb Space Telescope's high-resolution infrared instruments reveal thousands of never-before-seen young stars in the stellar nursery, formally named 30 Doradus. 

The incredible new detail picked up by the $10 billion space telescope shows gas and dust in the nebula, as well as distant background galaxies.

Related: NASA's James Webb Space Telescope mission: Live updates

The superb new detail in the image means Doradus 30, initially nicknamed Tarantula for its spider-like appearance, can now be seen to also resemble a burrowing tarantula's lair, lined with silk. 

The photo is the latest in a series of stunning images released from JWST, which launched on Christmas Day 2021 and released its first pictures in July. Recent images include a perfectly formed "Einstein ring."

The Tarantula Nebula is located 161,000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud and is the brightest star-forming region in the galaxies nearest to our Milky Way, collectively known as the Local Group.

A side-by-side display of the same region of the Tarantula Nebula brings out the distinctions between Webb's near-infrared (closer to visible red, left) and mid-infrared (further from visible red, right) images. (Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO Production Team)
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The nebula is of special interest to astronomers studying how stars form. The nebula has a similar type of chemical composition as star-forming regions from when the cosmos was only a few billion years old, thus offering a unique insight into how stars formed in the deep cosmic past.

JWST is a collaboration led by NASA with contributions from the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

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Andrew Jones
Contributing Writer

Andrew is a freelance space journalist with a focus on reporting on China's rapidly growing space sector. He began writing for Space.com in 2019 and writes for SpaceNews, IEEE Spectrum, National Geographic, Sky & Telescope, New Scientist and others. Andrew first caught the space bug when, as a youngster, he saw Voyager images of other worlds in our solar system for the first time. Away from space, Andrew enjoys trail running in the forests of Finland. You can follow him on Twitter @AJ_FI (opens in new tab).