The Tarantula Nebula is the largest and brightest star-forming region in the Local Group, the galaxies closest to our Milky Way, and the biggest, hottest stars in history call it home.
Captured with Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam), the area resembles the interior of a silk-lined tarantula’s home. A cluster of massive young stars that glow pale blue in the image have hollowed out the nebula’s cavity in the center of the NIRCam image. Only the densest regions of the nebula’s surroundings withstand erosion by the strong stellar winds of these stars, generating pillars that point back toward the cluster. These pillars hold protostars that are in the process of formation; soon, they will emerge from their dusty cocoons and sculpt the nebula.
Astronomers are captivated by the Tarantula Nebula as it shares a chemical composition with the massive star-forming areas seen at the universe’s “cosmic noon,” when star creation was at its zenith and the cosmos was only a few billion years old. In contrast to the Tarantula Nebula, star-forming areas in our Milky Way galaxy do not produce stars at the same rapid rate. As a result, the Tarantula serves as the clearest and most detailed representation of what was occurring in the cosmos as it approached its “noon”.
Humanity has been stargazing for thousands of years – however, there are still many unanswered questions about the star formation process, many of which are the result of our inability to obtain clear images of what was occurring behind the dense clouds of stellar nurseries. Webb has already started to reveal a universe that has never been seen before, rewriting the story of stellar creation.