Astronomers photographed the stellar network of the cosmic nebula Tarantula

A composite image of the star-forming region 30 Doradus, also known as the Tarantula Nebula, shows regions of cold gas that can collapse to form stars. (Image credit: ESO, ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/Wong et al., ESO/M.-R. Cioni/VISTA Magellanic Cloud Survey.)

A recently released image of 30 Doradus, also known as the Tarantula Nebula, shows thin, web-like filaments of gas revealing a dramatic battle between gravity and stellar energy that could give astronomers insight into how massive stars formed this star. areas of formation and why they continue to be born in this molecular cloud.

A high-resolution image of the Tarantula Nebula, located 170,000 light-years from Earth, is compiled from data collected by the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA). The Tarantula Nebula, located in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, is one of the brightest star-forming regions in our galaxy’s backyard. It is also one of the most active in terms of the birth of new stars, some of which have more than 150 times the mass of the Sun. At the heart of the Large Magellanic Cloud lies a stellar nursery that has given rise to 800,000 stars, of which half a million are hot, young, and massive stars.

This makes the nebula a prime target for researchers who want to study star formation, and it has another unique property that makes it interesting for scientific research.

“What makes 30 Doradus unique is that it is close enough that we can study in detail how stars form, and yet its properties are similar to those found in very distant galaxies when the universe was young.” – Scientist of the European Space Agency (ESA). This is stated in a statement by Guido De Marchi, a European Space Agency scientist and co-author of a paper describing the work. “Thanks to 30 Doradus, we can study how stars formed 10 billion years ago, when most stars were born.”

The battle to create more massive stars

The “push and pull” observed by the researchers is created by the energy provided by its huge population of stars and gravity, with the former tearing gas clouds into filamentous fragments, thereby slowing star formation, and the latter trying to bring the gas clouds together to form stars.

“These fragments may be the remnants of once large clouds that have been torn apart by the enormous energy released by young and massive stars, a process called feedback,” Tony Wong, professor in the department of astronomy at the University of Illinois at Urbana. Champaign’s European Southern Observatory (ESO) said in a statement. (will open in a new tab).

The findings also showed that despite intense stellar feedback, gravity is still forming the nebula, located 170,000 light-years from Earth and adjacent to the Milky Way, and is contributing to the ongoing formation of massive stars.

This is contrary to previous consensus about such star forming regions, which suggested that the thin filaments of gas seen in the Tarantula Nebula must be too disrupted by this feedback to allow gravity to pull them together and form new stars.

“Our results show that even in the presence of very strong feedback, gravity can have a strong influence and lead to continued star formation,” Wong continued.

Watching the web of a tarantula cluster by cluster

Radio wave image of the Tarantula Nebula, showing hotter gas and brighter stars. (Image credit: ESO, research by M.-R. Cioni/VISTA Magellanic Cloud)

Given its properties, it is not surprising that the Tarantula Nebula is well studied. What makes this new study different is that while previous studies have mostly focused on its center – the site of the densest gas and therefore the fastest star formation – astronomers know that stars are also forming in other regions of the nebula. – observing a large region of the Tarantula Nebula instead of focusing on its core. With this global approach to the nebula in mind, they then split it up into chunks, which revealed a surprising pattern.

“We used to think of interstellar gas clouds as puffy or rounded structures, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that they are filamentous or filamentous,” Wong said in a National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) press release. (will open in a new tab). “When we split the cloud into clumps to measure the difference in density, we noticed that the densest clumps are not randomly distributed but are well organized on these filaments.”

Focusing on the light emitted by carbon monoxide has allowed researchers to map large cold gas clouds in the Tarantula Nebula that are collapsing to form young stars. They also observed how these gas clouds change as these young stars release massive amounts of energy.

“We expected to find that the parts of the cloud closest to young massive stars would show the strongest signs that gravity is being fed back,” Wong said. (will open in a new tab) “Instead, we found that gravity is still important in these feedback regions — at least for parts of the cloud that are quite dense.”

An overlay of data collected by ALMA and an infrared image of the Tarantula Nebula showing bright stars and glowing hot gas taken by the Very Large Telescope and the Survey Infrared Telescope for Astronomy (VIS). (will open in a new tab)TA) creates a composite image that shows the size of its gas clouds and their distinct weblike shape.

Although the results of the study show how gravity affects star-forming regions, the study is not yet complete. “There is still a lot to be done with this fantastic dataset, and we are releasing it publicly to encourage other researchers to do more research,” Wong concluded.

Future research will also focus on the differences between the Milky Way and the Tarantula Nebula, including the rate of star formation – while our galaxy is constantly forming stars, the Tarantula Nebula does so in cycles of “rise and fall.”

The study of the Tarantula Nebula was presented at the 240th meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in Pasadena, California on June 15. The results are also presented in an article in The Astrophysical Journal.

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