Star cluster R136 bursts out in 30 Doradus

Source: Oct. 20-27, 2009: Hubble’s Festive View of a Grand Star-Forming Region (30 Doradus Nebula/Tarantula Nebula/NGC 2070)

Hundreds of brilliant blue stars wreathed by warm, glowing clouds. The festive portrait is the most detailed view of the largest stellar nursery in our local galactic neighborhood. The picture from the link above has been taken by the Hubble telescope during October 2009 and constitute a zoom inside 30 Doradus.

In the center of star-forming region 30 Doradus lies a huge cluster of the largest, hottest, most massive stars known. These stars, known collectively as hubble-photo-30-doradus-label-april-17-2012star cluster R136.

Gas and dust clouds in Tentacles of the Tarantula Nebula/30 Doradus/NGC 207030 Doradus, also known as the Tarantula Nebula or NGC 2070, have been sculpted into elongated shapes by powerful stellar winds (streams of charged particles) and ultraviolet light from these hot cluster stars. These clouds are what is left from the enveloping hydrogen gas cloud in which the stars were born.

Besides sculpting the gaseous terrain, the brilliant stars can also help create a successive generation of offspring. When the winds hit dense walls of gas, they create shocks, which may be generating a new wave of star birth.

The 30 Doradus Nebula lies within a neighboring galaxy known as the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) and is located a mere 170,000 light-years away, LMC is a satellite galaxy of our Milky Way.

R136, is only a few million years old there is no known star-forming region in our galaxy as large or as prolific as 30 Doradus. Many of the diamond-like icy blue stars are among the most massive stars known. Several of them are between 100 and 300 times more massive than our Sun. These hefty stars are destined to pop off, like a string of firecrackers, as supernovas in a few million years.

In July 2010, about one year after the Hubble picture above, astronomers published a more detailed study of the star cluster R136 and found this giant: R136a1. R136a1 is a Wolf-Rayet star and the most massive star known. It is an estimated 265 solar masses. It is also the most luminous star known at 8,700,000 times the luminosity of the Sun.

The movement of the LMC around the Milky Way may have triggered the massive cluster’s formation in several ways. The gravitational tug of the Milky Way and the companion Small Magellanic Cloud may have compressed gas in the LMC. Also, the pressure resulting from the LMC plowing through the Milky Way’s halo may have compressed gas in the satellite. The cluster is a rare, nearby example of the many super star clusters that formed in the distant, early universe, when star birth and galaxy interactions were more frequent. Previous Hubble observations have shown astronomers that super star clusters in faraway galaxies are ubiquitous.

The nebula is close enough to Earth that Hubble can resolve individual stars, giving astronomers important information about the stars’ birth and evolution.

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