Image: Hubble’s bubbles in the Tarantula Nebula

Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgements: Judy
Schmidt (Geckzilla)

At a distance of just 160,000 light-years, the Large
Magellanic Cloud is one of the Milky Way’s closest
companions. It is also home to one of the largest and most
intense regions of active star formation known to exist
anywhere in our galactic neighborhood—the Tarantula Nebula.
This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image shows both the
spindly, spidery filaments of gas that inspired the region’s
name, and the intriguing structure of stacked “bubbles” that
forms the so-called Honeycomb Nebula (to the lower left).

The Honeycomb Nebula was found serendipitously by astronomers
using ESO’s New Technology Telescope to image the nearby
SN1987A, the closest observed supernova to Earth for more than
400 years. The nebula’s strange bubble-like shape has baffled
astronomers since its discovery in the early 1990s. Various
theories have been proposed to explain its unique structure,
some more exotic than others.

In 2010, a group of astronomers studied the nebula and, using
advanced data analysis and computer modelling, came to the
conclusion that its unique appearance is likely due to the
combined effect of two supernovae—a more recent explosion has
pierced the expanding shell of material created by an older
explosion. The nebula’s especially striking appearance is
suspected to be due to a fortuitous viewing angle; the
honeycomb effect of the circular shells may not be visible from
another viewpoint.

Explore further:

Image: A stormy stellar nursery