ALMA photographed the cosmic web

Observations made at the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA) helped astronomers identify subtle structural details in the star formation region of 30 Goldfish, also known as the Tarantula Nebula. The resulting image captures fibrous gas clouds, allowing us to see how massive stars define the outlines of this area.

Stellar maternity hospital in the vicinity of the Milky Way

The Tarantula Nebula is located in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of our Milky Way, located at a distance of about 170 thousand light-years from Earth. This is one of the brightest and most active areas of star formation in our environment. In its depths are the most massive luminaries known to science. The mass of some of them exceeds 150 solar masses. Therefore, the Tarantula nebula is ideal for studying the processes of gravitational compression of gas clouds and star formation.

Infrared image of the Tarantula nebula. Source: ESO, M.-R. Cioni/VISTA Magellanic Cloud survey. Acknowledgment: Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit

While previous studies of the Tarantula Nebula have mainly focused on its central regions, astronomers are well aware that star formation covers its entire volume. To better understand the processes taking place there, scientists used the ALMA complex. With its help, the emission radiation of carbon monoxide clouds was measured. These observations made it possible to map the giant cold clouds of gas contained in the nebula, which form new stars in the process of compression. The researchers also found out what changes occur in these clouds when young luminaries release a huge amount of energy.

Inside the Tarantula Nebula

The published image shows ALMA data overlaid with earlier infrared images of the same area taken by the Very Large Telescope (VLT) and the Visible and Infrared Survey Astronomical Telescope (VISTA). They show bright stars and pinkish clouds of hot gas. The composite image shows the distinct web-like structure of the gas clouds of the Tarantula nebula, to which it owes its name.

Combined image of the Tarantula nebula (radio and infrared range). Source: ESO, ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/Wong et al., ESO/M.-R. Cioni/VISTA Magellanic Cloud survey. Acknowledgment: Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit

ALMA data adds bright red-yellow streaks to this picture: a very cold and dense compressible gas in which new stars condense after a while. These fragments may be remnants of once more massive clouds that were torn apart by the enormous energy released by young and massive stars during the so-called reaction process.

Image of the Tarantula nebula in the radio range (ALMA data). Source: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/Wong et al.

At first, astronomers believed that the gas in these regions is too rarefied and gravitational condensation in it is suppressed by reciprocal turbulence, so that new stars cannot form in it. But the new data also reveal much denser fibers, in which the role of gravity is still great. The results of observations show that even in the presence of very strong response processes, gravity has a great influence and star formation will continue.

The results of the new study allow us to trace in detail the effect of gravity in the star formation regions of the Tarantula nebula. But the work is far from over. According to astronomers, they published a picture of the nebula to encourage other scientists to continue this work.

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