Blowing a Super-duper Celestial Bubble

Article written: 25 Sep , 2012
Updated: 4 Jan , 2016

Image credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/U.Mich./S.Oey, IR: NASA/JPL, Optical: ESO/WFI/2.2-m. Zoom by John Williams/TerraZoom using Zoomify

When NASA combines images from different telescopes, they create dazzling scenes of celestial wonder and in the process we learn a few more things. Behold this wonder of combined light, known as LHA 120-N 44, or N 44 for short. Zoom into the scene using the toolbar at the bottom of the image. Click the farthest button on the right of the toolbar to see this wonder in full-screen. (Hint: press the “Esc” key to get back to work)

Star cluster NGC 1929 contains some of the most massive stars known to astronomers. These young, bright stars spew intense radiation and a blistering stellar wind that blow huge bubbles in the surrounding nebula. The intense radiation also excites atoms of hydrogen and other elements in the gas causing the cloud to glow. The rowdy juveniles also end their short lives exploding as supernova which further helps carve out cavities in this region. Officially, the entire nebula is known as LHA 120-N 44, or just N 44. The vast superbubble is 325 by 250 light-years across; almost a hundred times the distance between the Sun and the nearest star; about 4.3 light-years. As you explore the image, look for dozens of smaller bubbles and the faint rim of another huge bubble on the left side of the nebula. Along the edges of the superbubble, new stars are forming.

This destructive scene is colorful and beautiful, but we wouldn’t be able to see it quite like this with our own eyes. Astronomers combined the light of several telescopes; all observing N44 in different wavelengths of light. X-rays from Chandra X-ray Observatory, in blue, reveal hot areas created by winds and shocks. Infrared data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, in red, show where cold dust and cooler gas reside. Optical light from the ground-based European Southern Observatory telescope in Chile – light we can see with our eyes – outlines where ultraviolet radiation from the massive stars causes the gas to glow.

N 44 and NGC 1929 are found about 160,000 light-years from Earth in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf, irregular companion galaxy to our Milky Way Galaxy.


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