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Left: 30 Doradus captured by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) Composite of NIRCam and MIRI images, Middle: 30 Doradus captured by the JWST Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI), Right: 30 Doradus captured by JWST Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam).

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope presents a new perspective on the Tarantula Nebula

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope presents a new perspective on 30 Doradus, or the Tarantula Nebula, a region well-know to astronomers studying star formation.  Its nickname once came from its resemblance to the spider itself, but in Webb’s view the overall region takes on the appearance of a tarantula’s home – a burrow lined with its own spun silk.  The Tarantula Nebula shelters thousands of you and still-forming stars, many revealed by Webb for the first time. 

At only 161,000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud galaxy, the Tarantula Nebula is the largest and brightest star-forming region in the Local Group, the galaxies nearest our Milky Way. It is home to the hottest, most massive stars known. Astronomers focused three of Webb’s high-resolution infrared instruments on the Tarantula. Viewed with Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam), the region resembles a burrowing tarantula’s home, lined with its silk. The nebula’s cavity centered in the NIRCam image has been hollowed out by blistering radiation from a cluster of massive young stars, which sparkle pale blue in the image.

The region takes on a different appearance when viewed in the longer infrared wavelengths detected by Webb’s Mid-infrared Instrument (MIRI). The hot stars fade, and the cooler gas and dust glow. Within the stellar nursery clouds, points of light indicate embedded protostars, still gaining mass. While shorter wavelengths of light are absorbed or scattered by dust grains in the nebula, and therefore never reach Webb to be detected, longer mid-infrared wavelengths penetrate that dust, ultimately revealing a previously unseen cosmic environment. 

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