Tarantula Nebula

Caught in the Web
Caught in the Web
Item# U3404
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Product Description

shows the turbulent region around the ring-shaped nebula DEM L 299 in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way system. It was produced by combining three monochromatic images obtained in December 2001 with the Wide-Field-Imager (WFI) at the ESO/MPG 2.2-m telescope at the La Silla Observatory. A description of various objects seen in this impressive sky field is available in the text; technical information will be found at the end of this Photo Release and some of the individual objects are shown in other photos below. The sky field measures 33.3 x 33.0 arcmin; the original pixel size (in the FullRes version) is 0.238 arcsec. North is up and East is left. The coloured rings seen near some of the brighter stars in the field result from light reflections in the telescope optics.

The Tarantula Nebula is one of the most impressive views in the Southern sky, cf. ESO Press Photos 14a-g/02. Visible to the unaided eye in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way that is located in the direction of the southern constellation Doradus at a distance of about 170,000 light-years, this huge nebula is the prototype of what astronomers refer to as a "Giant HII region". In this complex of glowing gas and very hot and luminous stars, the gas is mainly composed of protons and electrons, which are kept apart by energetic photons emitted by the stars in this area.

The Tarantula Nebula (also designated 30 Doradus) owes its name to the arrangement of its brightest patches of nebulosity that somewhat resemble the legs of a spider. They extend from a central "body" where a cluster of hot stars (designated "R136") resides that illuminate the nebula. This name, of the biggest spiders on the Earth, is also very fitting in view of the gigantic proportions of the celestial nebula - it measures nearly 1,000 light years across!

While the central regions of 30 Doradus may be compared to a tarantula, the entangled filaments in the outskirts of this nebula - some of which are seen in PR Photo 34a/04 - could well be likened with its cobweb. They testify to an ongoing history of very vigorous activity and make this spectacular sky region a showcase of dramatic effects caused by the tremendous output of energy from the most massive stars known.