Last year, the James Webb Space Telescope captured a the striking image of a nebula called 30 Doradus. Now, scientists have combined data from the Webb telescope and the Chandra X-ray Observatory to create a composite image of the nebula that is more commonly known as the Tarantula Nebula owing to its dusty filaments.
The Tarantula Nebula is a stellar nursery that has been a favourite target of astronauts trying to study star formation. It is the largest and brightest region of star formation in the local group of galaxies, including the Milky Way. The Tarantula Nebula is located in the Large Magellanic Cloud, which is a small galaxy that is a neighbour to ours.
The new image combines X-ray data obtained by the Chandra Observatory with the infrared image taken by the Webb telescope in 2022. The X-rays, which are visible in royal blue and purple in the image, reveal gas that has been heated to millions of degrees by the shockwaves generated by massive stars. Interestingly, the data from Chandra also helps in identifying the remnants of supernovae, which will send crucial elements like oxygen and carbon into space, where they will become part of a new generation of stars.
Webb’s infrared data, which is visible in red, orange, green and light blue, shows the cooler gas that also provides raw ingredients for future stars. It also reveals “protostars,” or infant stars. The Tarantula Nebula has a chemical composition that is very different from that of most nebulae found in the Milky Way. The conditions in 30 Dorauds represent the conditions in our galaxy billions of years ago, when stars were forming at a much faster rate than we can observe today.
Star formation in our universe was at its peak during a period known as the "cosmic noon," when the universe was just a few billion years old. The Tarantula Nebula has a chemical composition that is very similar to that of star formation regions during this period. This is an important reason why scientists are so interested in this particular stellar nursery.