The latest wonder from the Webb Space Telescope is a new look at the Tarantula Nebula, a swirling mass of infantile and yet-to-be conceived stars. What looks like spider silk surrounds a hollowed-out center, where material has been blasted away by radiation, according to a NASA release.
A nebula is a massive cloud of dust occupying the interstellar medium that could be the cradle of life for new stars, and the Tarantula Nebula gets its particular name for its resemblance to a tarantula’s burrow, covered in webbing.
“The spectacular Webb images of the Tarantula Nebula give us an amazing new view into the largest stellar nursery in the local Universe, revealing stars in the earliest stages of their formation in the dense knots of gas and dust around the central cluster,” says Chris Evans, Webb project scientist for ESA.
The Tarantula Nebula is located 161,000 light-years away from us Earthlings in the Large Magellanic Cloud, one of the Milky Way’s neighbors. Webb scientists were able to capture the nebula in all its glory using the telescope’s suite of infrared instruments, with the main view from the Near-Infrared Camera.
According to NASA, the sparkling blue stars located right of center are responsible for the central cavity, as radiation emitted by the cluster of stars has hollowed out the area via intense stellar winds. The surrounding areas are incredibly dense and have formed pillars that are birthing young stars called “protostars.” Webb’s Mid-infrared Instrument, or MIRI, was able to see through the interstellar dust, since the longer wavelengths MIRI captures are able to penetrate the clouds of particulate matter.
Scientists are excited to learn more about the Tarantula Nebula, especially because it shares a similar chemical composition to that of the “cosmic noon,” a time when the universe was only a few billion years old. By observing the Tarantula Nebula, astronomers can, in a way, peer into the universe’s past.