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Hubble captures bubbles and baby stars

A spectacular new Hubble Space Telescope image — one of the largest ever released of a star-forming region — highlights N11, part of a complex network of gas clouds and star clusters within our neighbouring galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud. This region of energetic star formation is one of the most active in the nearby Universe.

The Large Magellanic Cloud contains many bright bubbles of glowing gas. One of the largest and most spectacular has the name LHA 120-N 11, or as it is informally known, N11. The billowing pink clouds of glowing gas and its distinctive shape led some observers to nickname it the Bean Nebula. N11 extends over 1000 light-years. It is the second largest star-forming region within the Large Magellanic Cloud and has produced some of the most massive stars known.

It is the process of star formation that gives N11 its distinctive look. Three successive generations of stars, each of which formed further away from the centre of the nebula than the last, have created shells of gas and dust. These shells were blown away from the newborn stars in the turmoil of their energetic birth and early life, creating the ring shapes so prominent in this image.

In the upper left is the red bloom of nebula LHA 120-N 11A. Its rose-like petals of gas and dust are illuminated from within, thanks to the radiation from the massive hot stars at its centre. N11A is relatively compact and dense and is the site of the most recent burst of star development in the region.

Other star clusters abound in N11, including NGC 1761 at the bottom of the image, which is a group of massive hot young stars busily pouring intense ultraviolet radiation out into space. Although it is much smaller than our own galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud is a very vigorous region of star formation.

Both the Large Magellanic Cloud and the Small Magellanic Cloud are easily seen with the unaided eye and have always been familiar to people living in the southern hemisphere. The credit for bringing these galaxies to the attention of Europeans is usually given to Portuguese explorer Fernando de Magellan and his crew, who viewed it on their 1519 sea voyage. However, the Persian astronomer Abd Al-Rahman Al Sufi and the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci recorded the Large Magellanic Cloud in 964 and 1503 respectively.

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Location of the new Hubble image of the star forming region LHA 120-N 11. This image was created from digitised photographs through red and blue filters. The field of view is about three degrees across.

This image shows the entire Large Magellanic Cloud, with some of the brightest objects marked. The outline shown corresponds to the overview image from Digitized Sky Survey 2. The field of view is about ten degrees across.

• Source: | See also: ESA,, Bad Astronomy

Posted on Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010 at 11:00 PM