The Tarantula Nebula is found on the edge of the Milky Way galaxy, 159,800 light years away from Earth. The mesmeric region of space has long been of interest to scientists, as it contains true celestial giants.
At least 40 stars in the nebula have a mass of around 50 times that of our Sun, and scientists have struggled to understand why so many giants have accumulated in the region.
The most likely theory is that there is so much gas and dust in the Tarantula Nebula that the area has become so compressed, allowing the monster stars to be born.
The latest image from NASA comes from the Spitzer Space Telescope – of which its first mission was to analyse the Tarantula Nebula when it was launched back in 2003.
Michael Werner, who has been Spitzer’s project scientist since the mission’s inception and is based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California: said: “I think we chose the Tarantula Nebula as one of our first targets because we knew it would demonstrate the breadth of Spitzer’s capabilities.
“That region has a lot of interesting dust structures and a lot of star formation happening, and those are both areas where infrared observatories can see a lot of things that you can’t see in other wavelengths.”
On the edges of the Tarantula Nebula resides the remnant of one of the biggest star supernovas in human history.
NASA explained: “Dubbed 1987A because it was the first supernova spotted in 1987, the exploded star burned with the power of 100 million Suns for months.
“The shockwave from that event continues to move outward into space, encountering material ejected from the star during its dramatic death.
“When the shockwave collides with dust, the dust heats up and begins to radiate in infrared light. In 2006, Spitzer observations saw that light and determined that the dust is largely composed of silicates, a key ingredient in the formation of rocky planets in our solar system.
“In 2019, scientists used Spitzer to study 1987A to monitor the changing brightness of the expanding shockwave and debris to learn more about how these explosions change their surrounding environment.”
The Spitzer Space Telescope, along with the Hubble Space Telescope, is due to be retired in the coming year, with the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) set to take its place.
The JWST is so powerful it will reach back to the furthest realms and the earliest moments of the universe.
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JWST, which is named after NASA’s second administrator James Webb who served from 1961 to 1968 who played a major part in the Apollo missions, has the capability of scanning thousands of planets for alien life – even though those planets are thousands of light years away.
One of the major differences between Hubble and JWST will be how far back in time it will be able to see.
Hubble can see far into space and is essentially looking back in time as light travels to the craft.
Through Hubble, experts have been able to view the formation of the first galaxies, about one billion years after the Big Bang.
However, as JWST is much more powerful, it will be able to see just 0.3 billion years after the Big Bang to when visible light itself was beginning to form.
JWST will also be situated much farther out in space than Hubble. Hubble is placed in Earth’s orbit just 354,181 miles (570,000 kilometres) from the surface, but JWST will be placed an astonishing 932,056 miles (1.5 million kilometres) from Earth, meaning if it breaks down while it is up there, it will not be able to be fixed.
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