Scoping out a stellar nursery

Peering through a veil of dust, a space-based infrared observatory has recorded the most complete portrait ever taken of a star-forming region in a nearby galaxy. The stellar nursery, known as the Tarantula nebula, lies in the Large Magellanic Cloud galaxy. The nebula is one of the most active star-forming regions among the so-called Local Group of galaxies and is host to some of the most massive stars in the universe. It’s been difficult to observe the nebula in its entirety because dust obscures clumps of Tarantula’s youngest stars.

SPIDER’S LAIR. Spitzer Space Telescope’s infrared image of the Tarantula nebula, a star-forming region in a nearby galaxy. JPL/NASA

That’s where the Spitzer Space Telescope comes in. Launched in August and equipped with dust-penetrating infrared detectors, the telescope not only detected previously hidden newborn stars but also found a vast cavity within the nebula where intense radiation from the young stars has blown away dust, notes Spitzer researcher Bernhard Brandl of Cornell University and the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. New data of this sort should help astronomers piece together more about how stars form, Brandl says.


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