The Big Spider

On the outskirts of the Milky Way galaxy, its two major satellites can be seen, the large and small clouds of Magellan.  Both considered irregular galaxies, they are more like swarms of stars, similar to gnats here on Earth.  But even though they lack structure, they are still alive.  The large magellanic cloud contains the single largest active star forming region in the entire local group of galaxies.  This is the Tarantula Nebula.

Image Credit & Copyright: Processing – Robert Gendler, Roberto Colombari. Data – Hubble Tarantula Treasury, European Southern Observatory

In the core of the tarantula, huge supernova shockwaves blast gas and dust, triggering star formation while forming dense filaments away from the center.  Along the entire complex you can see several small star clusters and active star forming regions.

The immense scale is hard to imagine, but if you use the 1500 light-year-distant Orion nebula as a marker, it gives some perspective.  If the Tarantula Nebula were in Orion’s place, it would fill up half the sky!  Even at a distance of 180,000 light years, the nebula is twice the width of the full Moon.

That’s a big spider.


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