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NEBULAR FILAMENTS FLUTTER IN STELLAR BREEZE

Resembling the hair in Botticelli's famous portrait of the birth of Venus, softly glowing filaments stream from a complex of hot young stars. This image of the nebula known as N44C comes from the archives of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope (HST). It was taken with the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 in 1996 and is being presented by the Hubble Heritage Project.

N44C is the designation for a region of ionized hydrogen gas surrounding an association of young stars in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a nearby, small companion galaxy to the Milky Way visible from the Southern Hemisphere.

N44C is peculiar because the star mainly responsible for illuminating the nebula is unusually hot. The most massive stars, ranging from 10-50 times more massive than the Sun, have maximum temperatures of 30,000 to 50,000 degrees Kelvin. The star illuminating N44C appears to be significantly hotter, with a temperature of about 75,000 degrees Kelvin!

Ideas proposed to explain this unusually high temperature include the possibility of a neutron star or black hole that intermittently produces X-rays but is now "switched off."

On the top right of this Hubble image is a network of nebulous filaments that inspired comparison to Botticelli. The filaments surround a Wolf-Rayet star, another kind of rare star characterized by an exceptionally vigorous "wind" of charged particles. The shock of the wind colliding with the surrounding gas causes the gas to glow.

N44C is part of the larger N44 complex, which includes young, hot, massive stars, nebulae, and a "superbubble" blown out by multiple supernova explosions. Part of the superbubble is seen in red at the very bottom left of the HST image.

The data were taken in November 1996 with Hubble's Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 by Donald Garnett (University of Arizona) and collaborators and stored in the Hubble archive. The image was composed by the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA).

Credit: NASA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
Acknowledgment: D. Garnett (University of Arizona)