NASA / ESA / ESO
A Hubble Space Telescope photo shows the heart of the Tarantula nebula, a region teeming with star formation. The giant mosaic view was released Tuesday to mark Hubble's 22nd anniversary in space. ESO telescope observations augment the view.
updated 4/17/2012 2:49:11 PM ET 2012-04-17T18:49:11

A stunning new photo from the Hubble Space Telescope has captured an unprecedented panoramic view of the Tarantula nebula, revealing its bright heart of massive stars.

The photo is actually a colossal mosaic — one of the largest ever built from Hubble images — and shows an intense star-forming hotspot called 30 Doradus. Hubble's science team unveiled the image Tuesday ahead of the 22nd anniversary of the iconic space telescope's launch on April 24, 1990.

"30 Doradus is the brightest star-forming region in our galactic neighborhood and home to the most massive stars ever seen," Hubble telescope officials wrote in an image description. "No known star-forming region in our galaxy is as large or as prolific as 30 Doradus."

NASA / ESA / ESO
These four Hubble Space Telescope views are part of a massive mosaic of the Tarantula nebula released on Tuesday. They show: the young star cluster NGC 2070 (top left), star cluster NGC 2060 (bottom left), Hodge 301 star cluster (top right), and the region RMC 136, which is home to massive stars.

Hubble's new view of the region inside the Tarantula nebula shows massive stars' winds carving cavities into gas clouds, creating "a fantasy landscape of pillars, ridges and valleys," Hubble officials explained. The spectacular colors are created by glowing hot gas. Hydrogen appears as red while oxygen shows up in blue. [ See Hubble's new Tarantula nebula photos ]

The image covers an area about 650 light-years across that includes so many stars that their mass would add up to millions of our own sun if combined, they added. (One light-year is the distance light travels in a year, about 6 trillion miles, or 10 trillion kilometers).

The Tarantula nebula is 170,000 light-years from Earth in the Large Magellanic Cloud, one of the smaller satellite galaxies that hover around our own Milky Way. Inside the nebula is 30 Doradus, which, because of its local proximity to our galaxy, has long been a cosmic laboratory of sorts for astronomers studying how stars are born and evolve.

The most massive runaway star ever seen and one of the fastest rotating stars are just two of the region's tenants, Hubble researchers said. Star clusters from 2 million to 25 million years old can also be found.  

The furious pace of star birth inside 30 Doradus is partly fueled by the Large Magellanic Cloud's neighbor, the Small Magellanic Cloud.

In the Hubble view, various stages of the star life cycle are evident, ranging from embryonic stars a few thousand years old to stellar giants that live fast and die young in supernova explosions.

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The bright, shining heart of 30 Doradus is a star cluster called NGC 2070 that astronomers suspect is relatively young,  just 2 million or 3 million years old. The cluster is filled with about 500,000 stars and has a dense core that includes some of the most massive stars in the universe. It's these mega-stars, which can contain more than 100 times the mass of the sun, that carve the stunning shapes into the gas clouds of 30 Doradus, researchers said.

To generate Hubble's new view of the Tarantula nebula, astronomers combined observations from the space telescope's powerful Wide Field Camera 3 and its Advanced Camera for Surveys. A total of 30 scans of the region, 15 per camera, were recorded in October 2011 to create the image. Observations from a telescope at the European Southern Observatory in Chile augment the already spectacular view.

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Photos: Month in Space: January 2014

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  1. Southern stargazing

    Stars, galaxies and nebulas dot the skies over the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile, in a picture released on Jan. 7. This image also shows three of the four movable units that feed light into the Very Large Telescope Interferometer, the world's most advanced optical instrument. Combining to form one larger telescope, they are greater than the sum of their parts: They reveal details that would otherwise be visible only through a telescope as large as the distance between them. (Y. Beletsky / ESO) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A balloon's view

    Cameras captured the Grandville High School RoboDawgs' balloon floating through Earth's upper atmosphere during its ascent on Dec. 28, 2013. The Grandville RoboDawgs’ first winter balloon launch reached an estimated altitude of 130,000 feet, or about 25 miles, according to coaches Mike Evele and Doug Hepfer. It skyrocketed past the team’s previous 100,000-feet record set in June. The RoboDawgs started with just one robotics team in 1998, but they've grown to support more than 30 teams at public schools in Grandville, Mich. (Kyle Moroney / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Spacemen at work

    Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov, right, and Sergey Ryazanskiy perform maintenance on the International Space Station on Jan. 27. During the six-hour, eight-minute spacewalk, Kotov and Ryazanskiy completed the installation of a pair of high-fidelity cameras that experienced connectivity issues during a Dec. 27 spacewalk. The cosmonauts also retrieved scientific gear outside the station's Russian segment. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Special delivery

    The International Space Station's Canadian-built robotic arm moves toward Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Cygnus autonomous cargo craft as it approaches the station for a Jan. 12 delivery. The mountains below are the southwestern Alps. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Accidental art

    A piece of art? A time-lapse photo? A flickering light show? At first glance, this image looks nothing like the images we're used to seeing from the Hubble Space Telescope. But it's a genuine Hubble frame that was released on Jan. 27. Hubble's team suspects that the telescope's Fine Guidance System locked onto a bad guide star, potentially a double star or binary. This caused an error in the tracking system, resulting in a remarkable picture of brightly colored stellar streaks. The prominent red streaks are from stars in the globular cluster NGC 288. (NASA / ESA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Supersonic test flight

    A camera looking back over Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo's fuselage shows the rocket burn with a Mojave Desert vista in the background during a test flight of the rocket plane on Jan. 10. Cameras were mounted on the exterior of SpaceShipTwo as well as its carrier airplane, WhiteKnightTwo, to monitor the rocket engine's performance. The test was aimed at setting the stage for honest-to-goodness flights into outer space later this year, and eventual commercial space tours.

    More about SpaceShipTwo on PhotoBlog (Virgin Galactic) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Red lagoon

    The VLT Survey Telescope at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile captured this richly detailed new image of the Lagoon Nebula, released on Jan. 22. This giant cloud of gas and dust is creating intensely bright young stars, and is home to young stellar clusters. This image is a tiny part of just one of 11 public surveys of the sky now in progress using ESO telescopes. (ESO/VPHAS team) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Fire on the mountain

    This image provided by NASA shows a satellite view of smoke from the Colby Fire, taken by the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer aboard NASA's Terra spacecraft as it passed over Southern California on Jan. 16. The fire burned more than 1,863 acres and forced the evacuation of 3,700 people. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Where stars are born

    An image captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Orion Nebula, an immense stellar nursery some 1,500 light-years away. This false-color infrared view, released on Jan. 15, spans about 40 light-years across the region. The brightest portion of the nebula is centered on Orion's young, massive, hot stars, known as the Trapezium Cluster. But Spitzer also can detect stars still in the process of formation, seen here in red hues. (NASA / JPL-Caltech) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Cygnus takes flight

    Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket rises from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va, on Jan. 9. The rocket sent Orbital's Cygnus cargo capsule on its first official resupply mission to the International Space Station. (Chris Perry / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A long, long time ago...

    This long-exposure picture from the Hubble Space Telescope, released Jan. 8, is the deepest image ever made of any cluster of galaxies. The cluster known as Abell 2744 appears in the foreground. It contains several hundred galaxies as they looked 3.5 billion years ago. Abell 2744 acts as a gravitational lens to warp space, brightening and magnifying images of nearly 3,000 distant background galaxies. The more distant galaxies appear as they did more than 12 billion years ago, not long after the Big Bang. (NASA / NASA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Frosty halo

    Sun dogs are bright spots that appear in the sky around the sun when light is refracted through ice crystals in the atmosphere. These sun dogs appeared on Jan. 5 amid brutally cold temperatures along Highway 83, north of Bismarck, N.D. The temperature was about 22 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, with a 50-below-zero wind chill.

    Slideshow: The Year in Space (Brian Peterson / The Bismarck Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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