This 340 light-year-wide mosaic image was obtained by the Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) onboard the Webb Space Telescope. It presents the star-forming region of the Tarantula Nebula in a new way, revealing tens of thousands of young stars that have never been seen before and were previously hidden by cosmic dust. The most active region appears pale blue and sparkles with enormous young stars. Red stars that are still embedded and have not yet broken out of the nebula's dusty cocoon are strewn among them. Due to NIRCam's unrivalled resolution at near-infrared wavelengths, it is possible to identify these stars that are veiled in dust. NIRCam's characteristic eight diffraction spikes, a feature of the telescope's design, are notably visible in an older star at the top of the nebula's cavity, to the upper left of the cluster of young stars. This star's top centre spike virtually identifies an unique bubble in the cloud by pointing upward. This bubble is being blown by young stars that are still encircled by dust and are starting to carve out their own cavities. In order to examine this region more closely and identify the chemical composition of the star and its surrounding atmosphere, astronomers employed two of Webb's spectrographs. Astronomers can determine the nebula's age and the number of star birth generations it has experienced using this spectral data. The cooler gas takes on a rust colour as it gets further away from the zone of hot, young stars, indicating to scientists that the nebula is rich in complex hydrocarbons. Future stars will be created from this dense gas. Some of the gas and dust that are swept away by the powerful stars' winds will accumulate and help create new stars through gravity. A team from the University of Arizona and Lockheed Martin's Advanced Technology Center created NIRCam.
A New Story of Star Formation Unfolds
A new viewpoint on the Tarantula Nebula, also known as 30 Doradus, is provided by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. This region is well-known to astronomers who study star formation. Its likeness to the spider gave rise to its nickname. Nevertheless, in Webb’s opinion, the entire area resembles a tarantula’s home—a burrow coated with its own spun silk. Thousands of young, still-forming stars can be seen in the Tarantula Nebula, many of which were discovered by Webb for the first time.
Together, a variety of Webb’s high-resolution infrared instruments display the nebula’s stars, structure, and composition in unprecedented detail. Webb will be used by astronomers for the duration of its mission to learn more about star formation and the stellar lifetime. This has consequences for the production of the heavy chemical components necessary for life as we know it as well as for our own star, the Sun.
The Tarantula Nebula is seen significantly differently when Webb concentrates on the region surrounding the main star cluster in the longer wavelengths of light collected by its Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI). As the young, blazing stars of the cluster lose their brightness in this light, luminous gas and dust advance. The dust clouds, seen in blue and purple, have surfaces that are illuminated by a lot of hydrocarbons. Because mid-infrared light may reveal more of what is going deeper inside the clouds, a large portion of the nebula seems more ghostly and diffuse. Still-embedded protostars pop into view within their dusty cocoons, including a bright group at the very top edge of the image, left of center.
Darkness can be seen in other places, such as the image’s lower-right corner. This denotes the parts of the nebula’s dust that are the densest and which even mid-infrared wavelengths cannot penetrate. These might be the locations of present or future star formation.
A consortium of publicly financed European Institutes (The MIRI European Consortium), in collaboration with JPL and the University of Arizona, planned and built MIRI with funding from ESA and NASA.
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