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We've caught a giant space tarantula with the Webb Space Telescope!
The James Webb Space Telescope is revealing details about the structure and composition of the Tarantula Nebula, as well as dozens of background galaxies.
A stellar nursery named 30 Doradus gets its nickname from its long, dusty filaments. Located in the Large Magellanic Cloud galaxy, this is the most massive and brightest star-formation region in the universe.
In this image, taken by Webb's Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam), young, massive stars (pictured in sparkling pale blue) have hollowed out the centre. It appears that only the densest areas of the nebula resist erosion, resulting in pillars that appear to point to the centre cluster of stars. As the stars form in the pillars, they will eventually leave their dusty cocoons and shape the nebula as they emerge.
Unlike the Milky Way, the Tarantula Nebula produces new stars at a rapid rate. Although the Tarantula Nebula is close to us, it reminds us of the gigantic star-forming regions of the early universe, when star formation was at its peak — a time called cosmic noon. In order to gain a better understanding of the universe's past, we can study the Tarantula in detail because it is close to us.
With Webb's Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI), the region appears in a different way. Hot stars fade, and cooler gas and dust glow. Points of light indicate embedded protostars that are still gaining mass within stellar nursery clouds. Unlike shorter wavelengths of light that are absorbed or scattered by dust grains in the nebula, longer mid-infrared wavelengths penetrate that dust, thus revealing an environment previously unknown.
Astronomers are interested in the Tarantula Nebula because it has a similar chemical composition to the gigantic star-forming regions seen at the dawn of the universe when star formation was at its peak and the universe was only a few billion years old. Our Milky Way galaxy's star-forming regions do not produce stars as furiously as the Tarantula Nebula and have a different chemical composition. Consequently, the Tarantula is the closest (i.e., easiest to observe in detail) representation of what was happening in the universe during its brilliant high noon. With Webb, astronomers will have the opportunity to compare and contrast observations of star formation in the Tarantula Nebula with deep observations of distant galaxies during cosmic noon.
Our ability to get crisp images of what was happening behind the thick clouds of stellar nurseries has kept the star-formation process in a state of mystery despite humanity's thousands of years of stargazing. In addition to revealing a universe that has never been seen before, Webb is just getting started on rewriting stellar creation stories.
With this video, I zoomed into the spectacular photo and it revelved incredible detail,