Astronomy Picture of the Day has been knocking me out this past week. Today they feature the Tarantula Nebula from the Hubble Heritage site, so big and bold we can see it with the unaided eye from across intergalactic space. Let the astronomers tell it to you:
No known star-forming region in our own galaxy is as large or as prolific as (this). Fortunately, (the Tarantula Nebula) can be seen clearly from Earth, and it is nearby enough for Hubble to resolve its individual stars. This allows astronomers the rare opportunity to study stellar evolution closely in the exotic, extragalactic context of a starburst.
The Hubble composite image comprises one of the largest mosaics ever assembled from Hubble photos, including observations taken by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 and the Advanced Camera for Surveys. Hubble’s unparalleled eye for fine, intricate detail is composited with ground-based data that trace hydrogen gas (in red) and oxygen (in blue). These complementary observations of the Tarantula Nebula were taken with the European Southern Observatory’s 2.2-meter telescope in La Silla, Chile. NASA and the Space Telescope Science Institute are releasing this image to celebrate Hubble’s 22nd anniversary.
The image features scenes from the drama of star birth, from embryonic stars still swaddled in cocoons of dark gas to stellar behemoths that rage and die – regrettably, predictably – in blazing supernova explosions.
To give you a sense of scale, the nearest major stellar nursery to us is the Orion Nebula. If the Tarantula were that far away from Earth–about 1300 light years–it would spread across half the night sky.
Image credit: NASA, ESA, ESO, D. Lennon (ESA/STScI), and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA). Do yourself a favor and go to the Hubble Heritage site and see the full sized versions there.