Using the power of ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), astronomers have snapped a region of the Large Magellanic Cloud – nicknamed the Dragon’s Head Nebula (NGC 2035) – that, until now, was previously an area we didn’t know too much about. This new image reveals swathes of gas and dust, showing not just the birthplace of young hot stars, but also stellar death in the form of filaments created by highly energetic supernova explosions.
The Large Magellanic Cloud, which rests some 160,000 light years away in the constellation Dorado, is one of the Milky Way Galaxy’s closest neighbours and is a site brimming with the making of new stars that can be spotted from Earth with the naked eye. In particular, the Tarantula Nebula – also part of the Large Magellanic Cloud – reveals itself as a dramatic stellar nursery; an eruption of new life.
Turning the VLT – situated at Paranal Observatory in the dry, arid conditions of the Atacama Desert of northern Chile – to NGC 2035, astronomers came across a HII region; an area of low density clouds of gas that are lit up by the radiation given off by young, hot and glowing stars. Dark clumps of dust that soak up light, rather than emit it, were also seen to create dark shapes of varying sizes, wrapping themselves around the nebula and strewn across it.
But where there’s life there’s death, according to the filaments to the left of this image that are created by the violent explosion of a supernova – the end of a massive star’s life. These shattering outbursts pack such a punch that they can briefly outshine their entire host galaxy before taking anywhere from a few weeks to several months to fade away.
Image courtesy of ESO