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MULTIPLE GENERATIONS OF STARS IN THE TARANTULA NEBULA

Near the edge of the most active starburst region in the local universe lies a cluster of brilliant, massive stars, known to astronomers as Hodge 301. Hodge 301, seen in the lower right hand corner of this image, is located at the edge of the Tarantula Nebula, within one of our nearest galactic neighbors, the Large Magellanic Cloud.

This star cluster is not the brightest, or youngest, or most populous star cluster in the Tarantula Nebula--that honor goes to the spectacular R136 at the center of the nebula. In fact, Hodge 301 is almost 10 times older than the young cluster R136.

But age has its advantages; many of the stars in Hodge 301 are so old that they have exploded as supernovae. These stellar explosions have blasted material out into the surrounding region at high speeds. As the ejecta plow into the surrounding Tarantula Nebula, they shock and compress the gas into a multitude of sheets and filaments, seen in the upper left portion of the picture. These features are moving away from Hodge 301 at speeds of more than 200 miles per second.

Note for your calendar; Hodge 301 contains three red supergiants--stars that are close to the end of their evolution. Over the next few million years, they will also go supernova, exploding and sending more shocks into the Tarantula.

Also present near the center of the image are small, dense gas globules and dust columns where new stars are being formed today, as part of the overall ongoing star formation throughout the Tarantula region.

Credit: NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
Acknowledgment: Y-H. Chu (U. of Illinois), E. Grebel (U. of Washington)