Scientists map violent nebula to discover how stars were formed 10bn years ago

Researchers have unveiled intricate details of the star-forming region known as the Tarantula Nebula which lies 170,000 light years from Earth.

Astronomers have mapped violent star formation in nebula outside our galaxy (ESO/PA)
Astronomers have mapped violent star formation in nebula outside our galaxy (ESO/PA)

Astronomers have mapped violent star formation outside our galaxy.

The researchers unveiled intricate details of the star-forming region 30 Doradus, also known as the Tarantula Nebula, using new observations from the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (Alma).

In a high-resolution image released by the European Southern Observatory (ESO), the nebula is seen in a new light, with wispy gas clouds that provide insight into how massive stars shape this region.

Tony Wong, who led the research on 30 Doradus, said: “These fragments may be the remains of once-larger clouds that have been shredded by the enormous energy being released by young and massive stars, a process dubbed feedback.”

Thanks to 30 Doradus, we can study how stars used to form 10 billion years ago when most stars were born

Guido De Marchi, European Space Agency

It was originally thought these areas were not capable of forming new stars.

Located in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of our own Milky Way, the Tarantula Nebula is one of the brightest and most active star-forming regions in our galactic neighbourhood, lying about 170,000 light-years away from Earth.

It is home to some of the most massive stars known – a few with more than 150 times the mass of our Sun – making the region perfect for studying how gas clouds collapse under gravity to form new stars.

Guido De Marchi, a scientist at the European Space Agency (ESA) and a co-author of the paper, said: “What makes 30 Doradus unique is that it is close enough for us to study in detail how stars are forming, and yet its properties are similar to those found in very distant galaxies, when the universe was young.

“Thanks to 30 Doradus, we can study how stars used to form 10 billion years ago when most stars were born.”

While most of the previous studies of the Tarantula Nebula have focused on its centre, astronomers have long known that massive star formation is happening elsewhere too.

To better understand this process, researchers conducted high-resolution observations covering a large region of the nebula.

In the image released by ESO, the new Alma data is overlaid on a previous infrared image of the same region that shows bright stars and light pinkish clouds of hot gas, taken with ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) and ESO’s Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (Vista).

A distinct, web-like shape of the Tarantula Nebula’s gas clouds that gave rise to its spidery name, can be seen.

The new data is made up of the bright red-yellow streaks in the image – very cold and dense gas that could one day collapse and form stars.

The research, presented at the American Astronomical Society (AAS) meeting and published in The Astrophysical Journal, contains detailed clues about how gravity behaves in the Tarantula Nebula’s star-forming regions.

But researchers say more work is needed, and they are encouraging other researchers to conduct new investigations.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in