TRAPPIST national telescope at La Silla Observatory

Allow me to intro introduce you to the Tarantula Nebula (otherwise known as 30 Doradus or NGC 2070). This spectacular nebula is found in a satellite galaxy to the Milky Way known as the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC). With an estimated diameter of 652 light years (or 300 parsecs) the Tarantula Nebula is decisively the largest star forming region in our local group of galaxies.

This nebula is so bright that astronomers originally thought it was a star, until in 1751 when French astronomer Nicolas Lacaille recognized NGC 2070’s nebulous form.

Even at distance of 180,000 light years, observers can see it with the naked eye (though, it’ll look more like a small smudge). Fantastically enough, the Tarantula Nebula is so bright, were it as close to us as the Orion Nebula (~1,344 light years away), it would cast shadows on Earth and cover an area of sky several times the size of the full Moon (about a square degree of sky). This is mainly due to the star cluster R136, which is approximately 35 light years in diameter and produces most of the energy that makes the nebula visible.

With an estimated mass of 450,000 solar masses, scientists believe that the Tarantula Nebula may be on its way to becoming a globular cluster. Until then, the Tarantula Nebula will remain a spectacularly beautiful object in our night sky. Therefore, the next time you find yourself in the Southern Hemisphere and see a blurry spot in the sky, put on those glasses, and if it is still blurry then grab a pair of binoculars and prepare to be amazed.


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