A striking image of a stellar nursery as been released to mark the 22nd anniversary of the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.
The star forming region imaged, 30 Doradus, is in the heart of the Tarantual nebula which is located 170,000 light years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite of our own Milky Way.
30 Doradus is the brightest star-forming region in our galactic neighbourhood and home to the most massive stars ever seen. It proximity to us means that Hubble can resolve individual stars, as in this image.
The colours come from the glowing hot gas - red signifies hydrogen whilst blue signifies oxygen.
The picture spans around 650 light years, and combines images from the Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 and Advanced Camera for Surveys, along with images from the MPG/ESO 2.2 metre telescope. The 2.2 metre telescope was used to map areas of glowing oxygen and hydrogen, which are seen here in blue and red respectively.
At the centre of the nebula lies the star cluster NGC 2070, which is no older than 3 million years. Its census includes around 500,000 stars, and a significant subset of these are massive stars. Some of these giants are more than 100 times the mass of the Sun, and such stars lead a very short life as they quickly run out of fuel.
Massive young stars emit torrents of ultraviolet light, which erode the surrounding gas to leave intricate wispy patterns interspersed among the stellar inhabitants. The ultraviolet light can also create shocks when it smashes into dense material, and this in turn can create a new generation of stars.
30 Doradus not only contains massive stars, but also holds some record breakers, including one of the most rapidly rotating stars.
Star formation takes place at a furious rate in 30 Doradus, and various different stages of stellar formation and evolution are evident in the picture. There are protostars that are only a few thousand years old and still hidden within a shroud of dust, all the way up to stars that are around 25 million years old.
Hubble was launched in 1990 and is a joint operation between NASA and the European Space Agency, ESA.