Tarantula Nebula

This fantastic region of space is one of the brightest and most active areas in our cosmic neighbourhood

Around 160 thousand light years from Earth is a nebula that has astounded astronomers. The Tarantula Nebula, also known as 30 Doradus or NGC 2070, is a 600-light year wide nebula in our Local Group of galaxies, but it shines with such luminosity that it is one of the most active starburst regions in our relative vicinity.

First recognised as a nebula in 1751, the Tarantula Nebula is incredibly bright. According to the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Arizona, USA, if it was at the same distance as the Orion Nebula (1,350 light years) it would be the size of 60 full Moons in the sky and its glow would cast shadows on the ground.

The reason for this luminosity is that the Tarantula Nebula is located in the region where gas and stars from the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds are colliding. This has ignited star formation in the Tarantula Nebula, in particular large stars that are more susceptible to supernovas, including the famous SN 1987A supernova from 1987 that was the first opportunity for modern astronomers to see such an explosion.

The majority of the energy in the Tarantula Nebula comes from a 35-light year wide compact super star cluster at its core called R136, which itself is barely 2 million years old. The stars of this inner cluster and the rest of the Tarantula Nebula will continue to unleash torrents of ultraviolet light and stellar winds long into the future, making this a sight to behold for generations to come.

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