Snapshot: JWST peers inside a cosmic spider web

The babies being birthed by this Tarantula aren’t as terrifying as you might expect.
By | Published: September 14, 2022 | Last updated on May 18, 2023
James Webb Space Telescope has revealed tens of thousands of never-before-seen stars hiding in this 340 light-year-wide region of the Tarantula Nebula.
NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO Production Team

Arachnophobes beware, for nestled within the Large Magellanic Cloud lurks the Tarantula Nebula. And this cosmic arachnid is giving birth to hundreds of thousands of babies. 

A mere 161,000 light-years distant, the Tarantula Nebula is both the largest and brightest star-forming region in our Local Group of galaxies. So, it’s no surprise that when NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope zoomed in on the region, it found a stellar egg sac in the Tarantula’s burrow.

In this mid-infrared view of the Tarantula Nebula, the radiant stars disappear into the background, and the gas and dust in the region takes center stage. Hydrocarbons grace the surface of dust clouds, shown in blue and purple. But even mid-infrared light cannot penetrate the densest dust in the nebula, like that in the lower-right of the image. These dark regions may be the site of current or future star formation.
NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO Production Team

Intense radiation from these massive stars has carved out a cavity in the dense nebula. Tucked inside some of the pillars of gas and dust that have withstood the stellar onslaught are protostars — young stars still feeding off their parent cloud. JWST caught sight of one of these protostars just beginning to emerge from its pillar, still swathed in an insulating cloud of dust. Soon (astronomically speaking, of course) this star will emerge from its cocoon, leaving its own mark on the nebula.