The Tarantula Nebula Is Full of Unusually Huge Stars

Thursday, 04 January 2018 - 6:26PM
Space
Astronomy
Thursday, 04 January 2018 - 6:26PM
The Tarantula Nebula Is Full of Unusually Huge Stars
ESO/IDA/Danish 1.5 m/R. Gendler, C. C. Thöne, C. Féron, and J.-E. Ovaldsen

When scientists name something the Tarantula Nebula, you know there's got to be something cool there.

Exceeding all expectations, this vast, sprawling corner of space has turned up even more treats than astronomers ever expected, as stargazers discovered the nebula contains a previously unheard of concentration of particularly massive stars. Considering that such stars are only seen very rarely across the universe, this is either a massive coincidence, or an indication that we might have misunderstood how such stars form, and how frequently they occur.

Massive stars of this size aren't generally considered to be common - they're approximately fifteen to thirty times bigger than our own sun, and as such, have an equally huge gravitational pull, which would presumably keep them from forming too close to each other, as they'd end up getting trapped in each other's orbits and exploding as they're finally pulled together into a single giant supernova.



Despite traditional expectations for the amount of space that's typically needed between such large stars, a new study in Science Magazine has found 30% more massive celestial bodies within the Tarantula Nebula than expected. As is often the case when our expectations are proven false in stargazing, this is very exciting to a lot of astronomers who now have the joyous experience of theorizing endlessly about why so many big stars are packed into such a small area.

According to University of Oxford astrophysicist Fabian Schneider, who was involved with the study:

Opening quote
"We found so many of them, it was just astonishing. You have to realize, these massive stars are extremely rare. So you only sort of find a few of these objects in star clusters. And just in this region there are so many of them."
Closing quote


The Tarantula Nebula's star nursery is relatively close by, a mere 180,000 light years away, in the next galaxy over from our own. Because of its nearby location and its unusual star formations, this galaxy, formally named the Large Magellanic Cloud, is often called "The Starburst Next Door" and scientists speculate that the manner in which it generates new stars is likely very similar to occurrences that took place in the early days after the formation of the universe.

This galaxy is filled with other quirky phenomena, including the fastest spinning star that has been discovered (thus far) across the universe, as well as the largest star we've ever seen. It helps, of course, that with the galaxy so close by, we've gained a better look at it than we have at any other galaxy throughout the universe, but it also could well be that there's something fun that's been thrown into the mix in The Starburst Next Door that isn't present in our own neck of the woods.

Now, the only question left to answer is why the Tarantula Nebula has so many giant stars. Chances are, we're a long way away from finding a definitive answer to this, but coming up with wild speculative theories is always a big part of the fun.

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