Astronomers were able to observe the stellar nursery in the Tarantula Nebula – a massive cloud of gas and dust near our galaxy – and gain new insights into the dynamics of star formation, while also gaining a stunning picture of the universe picture.
The researchers said Wednesday that their observations deepened the understanding of the interaction between the irresistible gravitational forces that drive star formation and the enormous energy that young supermassive stars inject into their surroundings, which could inhibit star birth.
The Tarantula Nebula is located in a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way called the Large Magellanic Cloud. It is a web of stars, gas and dust about 600 light-years across. A light-year is the distance light travels in one year, 9.5 trillion kilometers.
About 170,000 light-years from Earth, the Tarantula Nebula is officially named 30 Doradus, referring to the celestial catalog number in the direction of the constellation Doradus.
It’s called the Tarantula Nebula because parts of its structure feature glowing gas, dust, and stellar filaments that resemble spider legs. The gas composition of the nebula is similar to that of the universe in the early stages of its history, consisting mainly of hydrogen and helium.
The European Southern Observatory has released an image of the Tarantula Nebula, showing thin clouds of gas that may be the remnants of larger clouds torn apart by the energy released by young, massive stars.
“We see stars forming where there is a lot of gas and dust, and there must be a lot of that in the Tarantula Nebula,” said Guido de Marchi, an astrophysicist at the European Space Agency’s European Centre for Space Research and Technology in the Netherlands. Co-author of the study, published in The Astrophysical Journal and presented at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society.
Observations from the ALMA telescope (Atacama Large Millimeter Array) in Chile contribute to these findings.
“Stars form when a gas cloud collapses under its own gravity and the gas becomes denser and denser. These clouds contract and heat up until the core is hot enough to start the star’s engine, a giant nuclear reactor.”, DeMarci said.
“But we’ve always thought that when very massive stars — more than a hundred times the mass of the sun — start to form, they release so much energy that they stop more gas from falling, cutting off more stars The source of fuel. The beautiful observations of the Tarantula Nebula with ALMA now show that where the gas is dense enough, it continues to fall and new stars can continue to form. This is interesting new information.”
De Marchi is referring to a phenomenon called feedback, in which young, massive stars emit large amounts of energy into their local environment in the form of high-speed photons and particles. The primordial composition of the nebula fuels the formation of particularly large stars, some of which are 200 times more massive than our sun.
“The Tarantula Nebula is the most extreme feedback environment we can observe in detail because it holds the closest example of a young massive star cluster,” said University of Illinois astrophysicist and study lead author Tony Wang.
“One of the big puzzles in astronomy is why we can still observe star formation today. Why didn’t all the available gas collapse in the big explosion of star formation that happened and ended long ago? Observations with ALMA could be enlightening Understanding what’s going on inside stars helps us understand how gravity and feedback compete for influence that controls star formation,” he added.
The beauty of the nebula has not gone unnoticed by scientists.
“Personally, I love the Tarantula Nebula for scientific and aesthetic reasons,” DeMarci said. “It’s a unique panorama of the sky. I’ve often wondered what the night would look like if we were on a planet orbiting its star, with brightly colored clouds and streaks of gas.”
Translated by Clara Allen