September 7, 2022

A space tarantula Stunning, star-forming nebula captured by NASA’s James Webb Telescope

The Tarantula Nebula captured by the James Webb Space Telescope's Near-Infrared Camera.

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has captured stunning images of a “cosmic tarantula”: the Tarantula Nebula.

The nebula, officially called 30 Doradus, earned its spider nickname because “the region resembles a burrowing tarantula’s home, lined with its silk,” NASA said Tuesday.

The Tarantula Nebula sits 161,000 light-years away from Earth, in the Large Magellanic Cloud galaxy. Home to some of the biggest and hottest stars ever known, the Tarantula Nebula is the largest star-forming region within the galaxies closest to the Milky Way, according to NASA.

A nebula is a gigantic cloud of dust and gas in space. Some nebulae, like the Tarantula Nebula, are known as “star nurseries” because new stars form in the region. Other nebulae are created from explosions of a dying stars, NASA says.

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Area surrounding the central star cluster of the Tarantula Nebula, captured by the James Webb Space Telescope's Mid-Infrared Instrument.

The Tarantula Nebula has been observed by astronomers studying star formation, but the James Webb Space Telescope has now captured “thousands of never-before-seen young stars” and key “star formation-in-action.” Experts hope the Webb telescope will help advance more research (within and beyond this nebula).

The Tarantula Nebula is especially interesting because it has similar chemical makeup to that of star-forming nebulae observed during the “cosmic noon” – when star formation peaked at a time the universe was just a few billion years old, NASA says.

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“This makes the Tarantula the closest (i.e., easiest to see in detail) example of what was happening in the universe as it reached its brilliant high noon,” NASA writes. “Webb will provide astronomers the opportunity to compare and contrast observations of star formation in the Tarantula Nebula with the telescope’s deep observations of distant galaxies from the actual era of cosmic noon.”

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