A cosmic superbubble dominates a stellar nursery
Winds from bright young stars and shock waves from supernovae explosions are carving out this vast shell of material.
July 20, 2011
The European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT) captured this striking view of the nebula around the star cluster NGC 1929 within the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a satellite galaxy of our Milky Way. A colossal example of what astronomers call a superbubble dominates this stellar nursery. It is being carved by the winds from bright young stars and the shock waves from supernovae explosions.
ESO’s Very Large Telescope has been used to obtain this view of the nebula LHA 120-N 44 surrounding the star cluster NGC 1929. Lying within the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of our own Milky Way, this region of star formation features a colossal superbubble of material expanding outwards due to the influence of the cluster of young stars at its heart that sculpts the interstellar landscape and drives forward the nebula’s evolution. Image credit: ESO/Manu Mejias
The LMC is a small neighboring galaxy to the Milky Way. It contains many regions where clouds of gas and dust are forming new stars. One such region, surrounding the star cluster NGC 1929, is shown close-up in this new image from ESO’s VLT. This nebula is officially known as LHA 120-N 44 (N 44). Hot young stars in NGC 1929 are emitting intense ultraviolet light and causing the gas to glow. This effect highlights the aptly named superbubble, a vast shell of material around 325 by 250 light-years across. For comparison, the nearest star to our Sun is just over 4 light-years distant.
The N 44 superbubble has been produced by the combination of two processes. First, stellar winds — streams of charged particles from the hot and massive stars in the central cluster — cleared out the central region. Then, massive cluster stars that exploded as supernovae created shock waves and pushed the gas out farther to form the glowing bubble.
Although destructive forces shaped the superbubble, new stars are forming around the edges where the gas is being compressed. Like recycling on a cosmic scale, this next generation of stars will breathe fresh life into NGC 1929.