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 – 

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.  

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.  

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.”   

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.  

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.  

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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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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