A section of the new Hubble image showing the star cluster R136 and surroundings.
Credit: NASA, ESA, and F. Paresce (INAF-IASF, Bologna, Italy), R. O’Connell (University of Virginia, Charlottesville), and the Wide Field Camera 3 Science Oversight Committee. Click for a larger version.
I’ve thought hard about how I might write this post. How do you go about introducing the incredible image above?
I could tell you that it’s a new image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope’s shiny new Wide Field Camera 3. I’d probably say that it shows a region of frenetic star formation in the Large Magellanic Cloud (a nearby galaxy to the Milky Way) known as 30 Doradus. Undoubtedly I’d draw your attention to the cluster of stars to the centre right of the image, designated R136. It’s full of infant massive stars whose winds are sculpting the gas around the cluster; seen clearly in the great, roughly 70 lightyear wide, cavern forming at the centre of the image. I’d likely also talk about the huge billowing clouds of hydrogen gas which are glowing red around the young cluster – a typical trait of star forming regions. And I’d definitely say that using Hubble to study regions like this one allows astronomers to examine the processes which create and shape the stars in vast stellar clusters like R136.
Of course, in the end, the image speaks for itself in many ways; its sheer beauty, the vivid colours, the stunning detail that shows the power of the instrument that made it. We’re going to miss Hubble when it’s gone. But images like this one show that it’s got a lot more to offer before that time comes.