The Tarantula’s Cosmic Web

Using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), astronomers have revealed intricate details about 30 Doradus, a star-forming region also known as the Tarantula Nebula. In a high-resolution image released by the European Southern Observatory (ESO), which includes ALMA data, we see the nebula in a new light, with clouds of gas showing us how massive stars are shaping this region.

These fragments could be the remnants of previously large clouds that have been torn apart by the enormous energies emitted by young massive stars, in a process we call feedback,said Tony Wong, who led the research on 30 Doradus presented today at the American Astronomical Society (AAS) meeting and published in the journal. The Astrophysical Journal. Astronomers first thought that the gas in these regions was too dispersed and overwhelmed by this turbulent feedback for gravity to clump it together to form new stars. However, the new data also revealed very dense filaments where the role of gravity is important. “Our results show that even in the presence of very strong feedbacks, gravity can exert a strong influence, allowing star formation to continue,adds Wong, a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA.

Located in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of our own Milky Way, the Tarantula Nebula is one of the brightest and most active star-forming regions in our galactic neighborhood, at some 170,000 years -Earth light. At its heart are some of the most massive stars known, some having more than 150 times the mass of our Sun, making this region an ideal place to study how gas clouds collapse under the effect of the gravity to form new stars.

What makes 30 Doradus unique is that it is close enough to us for us to study star formation in detail, yet its properties are similar to those found in galaxies far, far away when the Universe was young.explains Guido De Marchi, scientist at the European Space Agency (ESA) and co-author of the article presenting these results. “Thanks to 30 Doradus, we can study how stars formed 10 billion years ago, when most stars in the Universe were born.

While most previous studies of the Tarantula Nebula have focused primarily on the regions at its center, astronomers have long known that massive star formation also occurs elsewhere. To better understand this process, the team made high-resolution observations that cover a large region of the nebula. with the help of ALMAresearchers took measurements of the emission of carbon monoxide gas, mapping the nebula’s huge clouds of cold gas as they collapse to form new stars — and watching how they change as enormous amounts of energy are released by these new stars.

We expected to find that the parts of the nebula closest to the massive young stars showed the clearest signs of feedback-overridden gravity,said Wang. “Instead, we found that gravity continues to play an important role even in regions of the nebula that are highly exposed to feedback, at least in sufficiently dense parts.”

In the image released today by ESO, we see the new ALMA data superimposed on an infrared image of the same region showing bright pink stars and hot gas clouds, previously taken with the Very Large Telescope (VLT) eo Visible and infrared survey telescope for astronomy (SEEN), both from ESO. The composite image shows a distinct web-like shape within the gas clouds of the Tarantula Nebula, precisely giving it its name. The new ALMA data matches the bright red and yellow streaks we see in the image: very cold, dense gas that could one day collapse and form stars.

The new research gives us important clues about how gravity behaves in the star-forming regions of the Tarantula Nebula, but the work is far from done. “There is still a lot of work to be done with this dataset and that is why we are making it public so that other researchers can conduct their own studies,concludes Wong.

European Southern Observatory

Publication within the framework of the program “Culture, science and technology in the press”, promoted by the Portuguese Press Association.

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