Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

October 27, 1995

The Tarantula and the Supernova
Credit: Anglo-Australian Telescope photograph by David Malin
Copyright: Anglo-Australian Telescope Board

Explanation: In this close-up of the Large Magellanic Cloud, the spidery looking nebula on the left is fittingly known as as the Tarantula nebula. It is an emission nebula surrounding a cluster of hot, young stars called the 30 Doradus super cluster. This cluster may contain the most massive stars known (about 50 times the mass of the Sun). Such massive stars put out more than 100 times as much energy as our Sun. The bright "star" (lower right) is actually Supernova 1987a and is a harbinger of things to come for the stars within the Tarantula. Massive stars burn their nuclear fuel at drastically enhanced rates to support their high energy output. As a result their lives last only a few million years compared to the Sun's few billions of years. They end in a spectacular death explosion, a supernova, like the star which exploded in 1987 as seen above. Supernovae may leave behind imploded stellar cores which form neutron stars or black holes.

Tomorrow's picture: The Delta Clipper

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
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&: Michigan Tech. U.