Here’s the Tarantula Nebula as we’ve never seen it before. The James Webb Space Telescope pointed its detectors toward the Large Magellanic Cloud, about 161,000 light-years away, to look at 30 Doradus, better known as the Tarantula Nebula. JWST’s exceptional infrared view has revealed thousands of never-before-seen young stars in this stellar nursery, as well as incredible views of fine dust filaments and an impressive collection of huge old stars.
There is so much detail in this picture. if you download the full size version, you can pan and zoom to see details of stars and surrounding dust and gas. And there are even other, more distant galaxies dotted in the background. If you have a large screen, even better, as it takes up more than 14,000 x 8,000 pixels. Or watch the video tour below.
The Tarantula Nebula is the largest and brightest star-forming region in the Local Group, the galaxies closest to our Milky Way, and has therefore been a popular target for other large telescopes and amateur astronomers in the Southern Hemisphere. For comparison, here A recent mosaic of the Tarantula Nebula from the Hubble Space Telescope:
And here is the view from amateur astronomer Joseph Brimacombe from Australia:
Although this nebula has been photographed many times over the years – as have other beautiful nebulae – astronomers say the star formation process still holds many mysteries – many of them due to our previous inability to get clear images of what what happened behind the thick cloud of star nurseries. With infrared vision, the JWST now shows details that were not there before. As scientists begin to dig deeper into the data, they are learning new insights into how stars form.
This nebula resembles a tarantula’s lair, in which the complex web of nebular dust and gas looks like spider silk. The nebula’s large cavity at the center was “gouged out by bubbling emission from a cluster of massive young stars that glow pale blue in the image.” says the JWST team. “Only the densest surrounding regions of the nebula resist erosion by the powerful stellar winds of these stars, forming pillars that appear to point back into the cluster. These pillars contain the forming protostars that will eventually emerge from their dusty cocoons and in turn form the nebula.’
Astronomers used JWST’s Near-Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec) to detect new dust-shrouded stars and the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) to reveal the previously unseen space environment, as longer-wavelength infrared waves can see further into gas and dust . . You can see a “slider” of the two images side by side to compare the different views.
ESA scientist Mark McCaughrin, a member of the JWST Science Working Group, said on Twitter that this view of the tarantula was taken as part of the Early Release science observations – the first color images released by the JWST team on July 12 — but this image didn’t “make the cut because there were a lot of other good things to show.”