Traveling Across the Tarantula Nebula on a Runaway Star

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This image of the 30 Doradus nebula, a rambunctious stellar nursery, and the enlarged inset photo show a heavyweight star that may have been kicked out of its home by a pair of heftier siblings. In the inset image at right, an arrow points to the stellar runaway and a dashed arrow to its presumed direction of motion. The image was taken by the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) aboard NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. The heavyweight star, called 30 Dor #016, is 90 times more massive than the Sun and is traveling at more than 250,000 miles an hour. In the wider view of 30 Doradus, the homeless star, located on the outskirts of the nebula, is centered within a white box. The box shows Hubble’s field of view. The image was taken by the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Wide Field Imager at the 2.2-meter telescope on La Silla, Chile. Credits: NASA/ESA/Hubble

Traveling at 250,000 mph would be a windy, visually spectacular ride to hell 

Space news (Astrophysics: stellar nursery dynamics; runaway stars) – 170,000 light-years from Earth, near the edge of the Tarantula Nebula – 

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Hubble/WFPC2 and ESO/2.2-m Composite Image of 30 Dor Runaway Star. Credits: NASA/ESA/Hubble

If you want to travel through the galaxy, hitch a ride on a runaway star like the one astronomers have been tracking since it came screaming out of 30 Doradus (Tarantula Nebula) in 2006. Data collected by the newly installed Cosmic Origins Spectrograph on the Hubble Space Telescope suggests a massive star, as much as 90 times the mass of Sol, was knocked out of the nebula by gravitational interactions with even more massive suns. Traveling at around 250,000 mph, voyaging through the cosmos on this runaway star would be an adventure to write home about.  

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ESO 2.2-m WFI Image of the Tarantula Nebula. Credits: NASA/ESA/Hubble

The trail leads back to a star-forming region deep within the Tarantula Nebula called R136, where over 2,400 massive stars near the center of this huge nebula produce an intense wind of radiation. Astronomers think interactions with some of the 100 plus solar mass stars detected in this stellar nursery resulted in this runaway star being flung over 375 light-years by its bigger siblings.  

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Massive Star is Ejected from a Young Star Cluster. Credits: NASA/ESA/Hubble

These results are of great interest because such dynamical processes in very dense, massive clusters have been predicted theoretically for some time, but this is the first direct observation of the process in such a region,” says Nolan Walborn of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore and a member of the COS team that observed the misfit star. “Less massive runaway stars from the much smaller Orion Nebula Cluster were first found over half a century ago, but this is the first potential confirmation of more recent predictions applying to the most massive young clusters.”   

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Nolan Walborn. Credits: NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Site

Astrophysicists studying the runaway star and the region in the Tarantula region where the trail ended believe it’s likely a massive, blue-white sun at least ten times hotter than Sol and only a few million years old. It’s far from home and in a region of space where no clusters with similar stars are found. It’s also left an egg-shaped cavity in its wake with glowing edges pointing in the direction of the center of 30 Doradus and the region of R136. A flaming trail you would see behind the star as you traveled across the cosmos and onto eternity.  

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Compass/Scale Image of 30 Dor Runaway Star. Credits: NASA/ESA/Hubble

 “It is generally accepted, however, that R136 is sufficiently young, 1 million to 2 million years old, that the cluster’s most massive stars have not yet exploded as supernovae,” says COS team member Danny Lennon of the Space Telescope Science Institute. “This implies that the star must have been ejected through dynamical interaction.” 

This runway star continues to scream across the cosmos, nearing the outskirts of 30 Doradus a star-forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud, it will one day end its existence in a titanic explosion or supernova, and possibly leave behind one of the most mysterious and enigmatic objects discovered during the human journey to the beginning of space and time, a black hole.  

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Hubble Observations of Massive Stars in the Large Magellanic Cloud. Credits: NASA/ESA/Hubble

Imagine riding this runaway star until it contracted into a black hole and left our universe altogether. Where would we travel? To a random location in spacetime? To another reality or universe? The possibilities abound and far exceed our ability to imagine such a reality. Scientists tell us such a journey wouldn’t be possible, but they’re just stumbling around in the dark looking for ideas to grasp. For handholds on the dark cliff we climb as we search for answers to the mysteries before us.  

What’s next?

Astronomers continue to study the Tarantula Nebula and the star-forming region R136 looking for signs of impending supernovae among the zoo of supermassive stars within. They also continue to track this runaway star and two other blue hot, supermassive stars outside the boundary of 30 Doradus that appear to have also been ejected from their host systems. We’ll update you with any news on it, and other runaway stars as it continues to scream across the cosmos. 

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Small Region of Sky Source of Mysterious, Energetic Blasts

Astronomers have identified source as a supermassive, unknown star cluster containing some of the most massive stars in the Milky Way 

Hidden within the region inset in the small square lie some of the rarest, most massive stars in the galaxy.
Hidden within the region inset in the small square lie some of the rarest, most massive stars in the galaxy. More than a dozen red supergiant stars. Credit: NASA/ESA/STScI

Space news (unknown X-ray and gamma-ray sources) – 2/3 of the way to the core of the Milky Way or 18,900 light-years (5,800 parsecs) from Earth toward the constellation Scutum in the Bermuda Triangle of the Milky Way – 

For years, astronomers studied a small region of the sky called the Bermuda Triangle known for mysterious, highly energetic blasts of X-rays and gamma rays looking for clues to the source. The identity of the source was finally determined around 2005 as an unknown, hefty star cluster containing some of the rarest and most massive stars in the Milky Way. More than a dozen red supergiant stars, supermassive stars that are destroyed when a star goes supernova, within a million years time.  

This color composite image compiled by the Spitzer Space Telescope highlights the colors of the cosmos. Credit: NASA/ESA/STScI
This color composite image compiled by the Spitzer Space Telescope highlights the dazzling color palette of the cosmos. Credit: NASA/ESA/STScI

Astronomers detected 14 gigantic, red supergiant stars bloated to beyond 100 times their original size hidden within a star cluster estimated to be over 20 times the average size. Their outer envelopes of hydrogen bloated to beyond bursting, these behemoth stars are destined to end their days in one of the most energetic events in the cosmos a supernova. Destined to spread the elements of creation throughout the galaxy in a titanic explosion more energetic than the output of the entire Milky Way. 

“Only the most massive clusters can have lots of red supergiants because they are the only clusters capable of making behemoth stars,” explains Don Figer led scientists for the study. “They are good signposts that allow astronomers to predict the mass of the cluster. This observation also is a rare chance to study huge stars just before they explode. Normally, we don’t get to see stars before they pop off.” 

This very colorful artist's impression of the stars within this unknown star cluster. CreditNASA/ESA/STScI
This very colorful artist’s impression of the 14 red supergiant stars within this unknown star cluster. CreditNASA/ESA/STScI

What’s next for the team?

Red supergiant stars were indeed rare during the human journey to the beginning of space and time. Only about 200 such titanic stars have been identified among the hundreds of millions detected in the Milky Way. Finding 14 of these behemoth stars relatively close to Earth is an opportunity for astronomers to study their life cycle in greater detail. An opportunity Figer and his team at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore plan on taking full advantage of during the years ahead. 

At the same time, Figer and his team of space scientists plan on studying an additional 130 supermassive star cluster candidates from the newly found clusters compiled in the Two Micron All Sky Survey catalog. “We can only see a small part of our galaxy in visible light because a dusty veil covers most of our galaxy,” Figer said. “I know there are other massive clusters in the Milky Way that we can’t see because of the dust. My goal is to find them using infrared light, which penetrates the dusty veil.” 

“Mysterious X-ray and gamma ray source explained!” 

“Now, we search for new cosmic mysteries to unveil!”

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The Milky Way’s Nuclear Star Cluster

The most massive, densest star cluster in the galaxy 

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In this image the infrared light, which is invisible to humans, has been translated into colors our eyes can see. The red stars observed are embedded or shrouded by intervening dust and gas. Areas appearing dark against the bright background stars are actually very dense clouds of gas and dust seen in silhouette. These regions even the infrared eyes of the Hubble Space Telescope can’t penetrate. Credits: NASA/ESA/Hubble

Space news (Into the lair of the Monster of the Milky Way) – the center of the galaxy, 27,000 light-years away – 

Astronomers recently used the Hubble Space Telescope’s infrared vision to observe the lair of the Monster of the Milky Way. Using Hubble’s infrared cameras scientists revealed a dusty galactic core crammed with over an estimated half a million stars. Plus at least ten million stars too faint to be seen by Hubble through the dust in the disk of our island universe. Watch this Spitzer Space Telescope site video “The Hidden Universe: The Galactic Center Revisited“.

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A keyhole-view through Hubble’s looking glass towards the center of the Milky Way through the Sagittarius Star Cloud at a treasure chest full of stars. A treasure chest containing ancient stars that first formed the galaxy with a tale to tell astronomers about the evolution of galaxies.

Part of the Milky Way’s nuclear star cluster, the densest and most massive star cluster in the galaxy, these stars orbit Sagittarius A, a supermassive black hole astronomers believe resides at the center of our galaxy. Called the Monster of the Milky Way, the stars in this cluster are doomed to fall prey to this mysterious object, to be swallowed whole by this 4 million solar mass supermassive black hole. 

The 4-million-solar-mass black hole at the center of the Milky Way.

The bottom panel of this graphic is a view of the region around Sgr A* where red, green, and blue represent low, medium, and high-energy X-rays detected by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. Sgr A* itself is not visible in this image but is embedded in the white dot at the end of the arrow. The other two telescopes involved in the 15 years of X-ray observations were ESA’s XMM-Newton and NASA’s Swift Gamma Ray Burst Explorer, but their data are not included in this image.

Astrophysicists measured the movements of the stars within the galactic core to determine the mass and structure of the nuclear star cluster. Using these measurements they were able to get a glimpse backward in time to the moment it was formed. To see if it was constructed over time as globular clusters fell into the core of the galaxy or from gas and dust spiraling into the core from the disk to form new stars. 

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This image is meant to show the grand scale of the lair of the Monster of the Milky Way. The storm of stars seen here is actually just the tip of the iceberg, there are at least 10 million stars in this image to faint for Hubble to detect according to estimates by astronomers. Astronomers used the Hubble Space Telescope’s infrared vision to look through the dust in the disk of the Milky Way at its nuclear star cluster. Credits: NASA/ESA/Hubble

Study continues

Astronomers weren’t able to determine which scenario best fits current theory and computer simulations conducted. They continue to modify parameters and devise additional scenarios to explain the formation of the nuclear star cluster. We’ll update you on their findings in future articles. 

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Mysterious Ultra Luminous X-Ray Sources Keep Space Scientists Guessing

Space scientists have debated the nature and origin of high energy ultra-luminous x-ray sources for years  

This image from Swift's X-Ray Telescope captures both of the known ULXs in M31. The first, dubbed CXOM31 J004253.1+411422, was discovered with NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory on Dec. 17, 2009, and appears to be a stellar-mass black hole. The other, named XMMU J004243.6+412519, was discovered just last month, on Jan. 15, by the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton spacecraft. Credit: NASA/Swift/Stefan Immler
This image from Swift’s X-Ray Space Telescope captures both of the known ULXs in M31. The first, dubbed CXOM31 J004253.1+411422, was discovered with NASA’s Chandra X-ray Space Observatory on Dec. 17, 2009, and appears to be a stellar-mass black hole. The other, named XMMU J004243.6+412519, was discovered just last month, on Jan. 15, by the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton spacecraft. Credit: NASA/Swift/Stefan Immler

Space news (Oct. 28, 2014) –

Space scientists have been looking at celestial objects called ultraluminous x-ray sources (ULXs) for years in search of answers to the mystery surrounding their nature and origin. Celestial bodies radiating enormous amounts of high-energy x-rays, astronomers have been studying three nearby ULXs changing thoughts and present theory on these energetic characters.  

Space scientists using the Chandra X-ray Observatory, Hubble Space Telescope, Swift Gamma-ray Burst Explorer and XMM-Newton Space Observatory have been studying two ULXs discovered in Andromeda galaxy (M31). The first is called CXOM31 and was discovered in 2009 using the Chandra X-ray Space Observatory. The second, XMMU, was discovered on Jan. 15, 2014 by the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton spacecraft.   

The locations of two M31 ULXs are shown on this optical image of our galactic neighbor. M31 lies 2.5 million light-years away in the constellation Andromeda and is the nearest large spiral galaxy to our own. Under a clear, dark sky, it can be seen as a misty patch with the naked eye. Credit: NASA/Swift; background: Bill Schoening, Vanessa Harvey/REU program/NOAO/AURA/NSF
The locations of two M31 ULXs are shown on this optical image of our galactic neighbor. M31 lies 2.5 million light-years away in the constellation Andromeda and is the nearest large spiral galaxy to our own. Under a clear, dark sky, it can be seen as a misty patch with the naked eye. Credit: NASA/Swift; background: Bill Schoening, Vanessa Harvey/REU program/NOAO/AURA/NSF

Space scientists believe both ULXs they observe in Andromeda are binary star systems with a black hole rapidly accreting (consuming) material from its neighbor at a rate near the theoretical Eddington limit (the maximum accretion rate of a black hole).  

“There are four black hole binaries within our own galaxy that have been observed accreting at these extreme rates,” said Matthew Middleton, an astronomer at the Anton Pannekoek Astronomical Institute in Amsterdam. “Gas and dust in our own galaxy interfere with our ability to probe how matter flows into ULXs, so our best glimpse of these processes comes from sources located out of the plane of our galaxy, such as those in M31.”  

“As gas spirals toward a black hole, it becomes compressed and heated, eventually reaching temperatures where it emits X-rays. As the rate of matter ingested by the black hole increases, so does the X-ray brightness of the gas. At some point, the X-ray emission becomes so intense that it pushes back on the inflowing gas, theoretically capping any further increase in the black hole’s accretion rate. Astronomers refer to this as the Eddington limit, after Sir Arthur Eddington, the British astrophysicist who first recognized a similar cutoff to the maximum luminosity of a star.”  

“Black-hole binaries in our galaxy that show accretion at the Eddington limit also exhibit powerful radio-emitting jets that move near the speed of light,” Middleton said. “Although astronomers know little about the physical nature of these jets, detecting them at all would confirm that the ULX is accreting at the limit and identify it as a stellar mass black hole.”  

High-energy X-rays streaming from a rare and mighty pulsar (magenta), the brightest found to date, can be seen in this new image combining multi-wavelength data from three telescopes. The bulk of a galaxy called Messier 82 (M82), or the
High-energy X-rays streaming from a rare and mighty pulsar (magenta), the brightest found to date, can be seen in this new image combining multi-wavelength data from three telescopes. The bulk of a galaxy called Messier 82 (M82), or the “Cigar galaxy,” is seen in visible-light data captured by the National Optical Astronomy Observatory’s 2.1-meter telescope at Kitt Peak in Arizona. Starlight is white, and lanes of dust appear brown. Low-energy X-ray data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Space Observatory are colored blue, and higher-energy X-ray data from NuSTAR are pink.

Space scientists operating NASA’s Nuclear Array (NuSTAR) have also found the brightest ULX on record near the center of galaxy Messier 82 (M82) 12 million light-years away. Called M82 X-2, they believe this particular object is actually a dead pulsating star called a pulsar, rather than a binary star system with a black hole accreting material from its neighbor.  

“Astronomers have found a pulsating, dead star beaming with the energy of about 10 million suns. This is the brightest pulsar – a dense stellar remnant left over from a supernova explosion – ever recorded. The discovery was made with NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR.”  

“You might think of this pulsar as the ‘Mighty Mouse’ of stellar remnants,” said Fiona Harrison, the NuSTAR principal investigator at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California. “It has all the power of a black hole, but with much less mass.”  

This ULX being something other than a binary star system with an accreting black hole is surprising to astronomers. They’ll have to rethink present theories on the nature and origin of these mysterious celestial objects.   

“The pulsar appears to be eating the equivalent of a black hole diet,” said Harrison. “This result will help us understand how black holes gorge and grow so quickly, which is an important event in the formation of galaxies and structures in the universe.”  

“ULXs are generally thought to be black holes feeding off companion stars — a process called accretion. They also are suspected to be the long-sought-after “medium-sized” black holes – missing links between smaller, stellar-size black holes and the gargantuan ones that dominate the hearts of most galaxies. But research into the true nature of ULXs continues toward more definitive answers.”  

“We took it for granted that the powerful ULXs must be massive black holes,” said lead study author Matteo Bachetti, of the University of Toulouse in France. “When we first saw the pulsations in the data, we thought they must be from another source.”  

“Having a diverse array of telescopes in space means that they can help each other out,” said Paul Hertz, director of NASA’s astrophysics division in Washington. “When one telescope makes a discovery, others with complementary capabilities can be called in to investigate it at different wavelengths.”  

What’s next?

Space scientists will now use NASA’s complete array of astronomical equipment and spacecraft to look at how this dead star is able to radiate x-rays so intensely. Plans are for NuSTAR, the Swift Gamma-ray Burst Explorer, and Chandra X-ray Space Observatory to have a look at the weird behavior of M82 X-2.  

They’ll also start looking at other ULXs to see if they can find anymore that are pulsars, rather than a binary star system with an accreting black hole. This research could open a window of discovery on the true nature and origin of these energetic and enigmatic celestial objects.  

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MACS 0647-JD could be the most distant galaxy viewed so far during the human journey to the beginning of space and time

Hubble Views Most Distant Galaxy Ever

MACS 0647-JD could be the most distant galaxy viewed so far during the human journey to the beginning of space and time
Astronomers looking at images of MACS 0647-JD believe it’s only about 600 light-years wide

The first galaxies

Astronomy news (November 28, 2013) – The Hubble Space Telescope, along with the light magnifying ability of the effect called gravitational lensing, has provided the first views of the most distant galaxy seen during the human journey to the beginning of space and time. The astronomers of the Cluster Lensing and Supernova Survey with Hubble (CLASH) recently discovered three gravity-lensed images of a galaxy that existed over 13.7 billions years ago taken using Hubble’s new panchromatic imaging capabilities. Designated MACS 0647-JD, this ancient star city is currently the most distant galaxy located to date using the Hubble Space Telescope and gravitational lensing.

Astronomers used the Hubble Space Telescope and gravitational lensing to look at MACS 0647-JD
Astronomers used the Hubble Space Telescope to help view MACS 0647-JD

The CLASH program

The astronomers of CLASH used the Hubble Space Telescope to look at 25 distant galaxy clusters during the period from November 2010 to July 2013. They were looking for light which had been magnified due to the effect known as gravitational lensing as predicted by Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. They wanted to detect additional Type Ia supernovae, map the distribution of dark matter in galaxy clusters, detect the most distant galaxies ever and study the internal structure and evolution of the galaxies in and behind these clusters.

The three gravity-lensed images taken by Hubble are of a small galaxy, now designated MACS 0647-JD, which could have been one of the first galaxies to exist in the universe. Astronomers’ analysis of the images suggests this small galaxy was less than 600 light-years across, which may indicate it was in the first stages of galaxy formation. In fact, this smaller galaxy may have been just one building block in the construction of a larger galaxy, and during the past 13.7 billions years could have been part of dozens, hundreds and even thousands of merging events with other galaxies.

Astronomers look at other possibilities

The astronomers of the Cluster Lensing and Supernova Survey with Hubble recently used the ability of NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope to help rule out other possible identities of the three images they found. Next, astronomers will use the Spitzer Space Telescope, and other telescopes, to confirm the existence of the galaxy and try to get a better estimate of its age.

Astronomers hope to use the data they obtain from the study of galaxies like MACS 0647-JD to learn more about the early universe
Astronomers hope to use the James Webb Space Telescope to look even further back in time and space

Can NASA astronomers detect extraterrestrial moons orbiting distant suns? Read this article to find out https://spaceshipearth1.wordpress.com/2013/12/31/searching-for-extraterrestrial-moons/.

Read about the latest discovery in the search for life beyond Earth https://spaceshipearth1.wordpress.com/2013/12/25/the-search-for-life-beyond-earth-takes-a-turn-at-jupiter/.

Read about the latest images of the solar system sent back by the Cassini spacecraft https://spaceshipearth1.wordpress.com/2013/12/22/cassini-spacecraft-show-views-of-the-solar-system-in-natural-color/.

Star Clusters of Unimaginable Size Exist in the Universe

Understanding how large star clusters form could tell us more about star formation when the universe was young

The Tarantula nebula in full glory
The Tarantula nebula in full glory

Astronomers news (2013-10-14) – Tonight we’ll journey to the truly titanic 30 Doradus nebula (also called the Tarantula nebula), 170 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud, aboard the Hubble Space Telescope. The Large Magellanic Cloud is a smaller satellite galaxy to the Milky Way, where astronomers recently discovered something they suspected about the formation of larger star clusters.

Using Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3, we’ll be able to look at images of the Tarantula nebula filled with startling reds, greens and blues, which indicates to astronomers the elemental composition of the  stars in the region. Blue light is from the hottest, most massive stars astronomers have found to date. Red light is from fluorescing hydrogen gas, while green light is the glow of oxygen.

Every element on the periodic table gives off light with a specific signature upon fluorescing. Scientists use this knowledge to analyze the light reaching Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 from the Tarantula nebula to determine the elemental composition of the stars in the region .They hope to use this knowledge to answer questions they have concerning star formation when the universe was still in its infancy.

30 Doradus is full of red, blue and yellow light
30 Doradus is full of red, blue and green light

NASA astronomers see something different going on in 30 Doradus

We’ll specifically journey to a region of the 30 Doradus nebula where astronomers recently discovered a pair of star clusters which they first thought was a single star cluster, is in fact a pair of star clusters in the initial stages of merging into a larger star cluster. Astronomers now think the merging of star clusters could help explain the abundance of large star clusters throughout the visible universe.

Lead scientist Elena Sabbi of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland and her team first started looking at the region to find runaway stars. Runaway stars are fast-moving stars that have been kicked out of the stellar nursery where they first formed. Astronomers found the region surrounding 30 Doradus has a large number of runaway stars, which according to current star formation theories could not have formed at their present location. Astronomers now believe the runaway stars outside 30 Doradus could have been ejected out of the region at high speed due to dynamic interactions with other stellar bodies as the two star clusters merge into one larger star cluster.

This image of 30 Doradus makes one feel small
This image of 30 Doradus makes one feel small

Astrophysicists and astronomers started looking for clues

The first clue to the true nature of the event astronomers were viewing was the fact that parts of the star cluster varied in age by about 1 million years. Upon further study the team noticed the distribution of low-mass stars detected by Hubble were not spherical in shape as astronomers expected, but resembled the elongated shape of two merging galaxies. Now astronomers are studying this region of space and time to find clues to help them understand the way larger star clusters are formed in the universe. They also hope this discovery will help determine interesting and enlightening facts concerning the formation of star clusters when the universe was still young.

Astronomers are also looking further at this region of space and time to find other star clusters in the process of merging in the 30 Doradus nebula. They plan on using the ability of the James Webb Space Telescope to detect infrared light , once it comes on line, to take a closer look at areas within the Tarantula nebula where they think stars hidden within cocoons of dust are blocked from the view of telescopes and instruments detecting visible light.

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