Arachnophilia

The entire universe in blog form
March 15 2011 6:00 AM

Arachnophilia

Over the past few months I've written about various nebulae that are busily forming stars. Orion is a great one, NGC 604 in the Triangulum Galaxy is another. But in nearby space, the great grand-daddy of them all is the vast, sprawling Tarantula Nebula. Located 170,000 light years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud -- a satellite galaxy to our Milky Way -- it is churning out stars at a mind-numbing rate. Astronomers pointed Hubble into its heart (it's far too big to be seen all at once by Hubble) and got quite an eye full:

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

Advertisement

Holy Haleakala! That's gorgeous!

[Click to arachnidate, or get the 3868 x 3952 pixel version. And yeah, you want a bigger one; I had to compress the picture to display it here, and the bigger ones are really something.]

This area is a mess. The gas and dust are obvious enough, as are the great number of stars littering that volume of space. Quite a few of the stars you see there are newborns. But note the tendrils and filaments of gas to the left of center, and to a lesser extent to the upper right. Those are the shock-wave compressed sheets of gas from a supernova, a star that exploded right in the center of all that. A massive star must have formed here, lived out its short life, and detonated. The debris expanded at thousands of kilometers per second, slamming into and compressing the gas. It wouldn't surprise me if this expanding debris helped collapse more gas at its outer edges, helping more stars get born.

It's the circle of life, or I guess, in this case, it's the spherical shell of life.

To say this region is vast is seriously underestimating it. Astronomers are actually arguing not that it's forming stars, but that it may be forming a nascent globular cluster, a collection of hundreds of thousands or even million of stars!

Mind you, the Tarantula is easily visible using just binoculars; I saw it myself when I visited Australia a few years ago. That flight to Oz was an uncomfortable 14 hours long, and I traveled about 12,000 kilometers. The light from the Tarantula had a bit of a tougher trip: it traveled 1,700,000,000,000,000,000 km to reach my eye, almost two quintillion kilometers!

I will never complain about a long flight again*.

Image credit: NASA, ESA



* Yes I will. I'm no photon.




Related posts:


TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

The U.S. Is So, So Far Behind Europe on Clean Energy

Even if You Don’t Like Batman, You Might Like Gotham

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Politics

Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

How Moscow’s Anti-War March Revealed One of Russia’s Deepest Divides

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 22 2014 6:30 PM What Does It Mean to Be an American? Ted Cruz and Scott Brown think it’s about ideology. It’s really about culture.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 22 2014 5:38 PM Apple Won't Shut Down Beats Music After All (But Will Probably Rename It)
  Life
Outward
Sept. 22 2014 4:45 PM Why Can’t the Census Count Gay Couples Accurately?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 7:43 PM Emma Watson Threatened With Nude Photo Leak for Speaking Out About Women's Equality
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 22 2014 9:17 PM Trent Reznor’s Gone Girl Soundtrack Sounds Like an Eerie, Innovative Success
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 6:27 PM Should We All Be Learning How to Type in Virtual Reality?
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 22 2014 4:34 PM Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.