The Tarantula Nebula

The Tarantula Nebula

This is southern-hemisphere object, meaning us in the north miss out. The most recognizable satellite galaxy, the LMC (Large Magellanic Cloud), has this awesome cluster with nebulosity known as the Tarantula Nebula. From Earth, is is magnitude 8, well outside the range of human eyes. However, the LMC is at about a 2, easily visible from Earth and a fuzzy smear with another, smaller smear trailing behind (the SMC, Small Magellanic Cloud) which is the LMC’s smaller satellite galaxy sister.

Anyhow, this nebula lies within the LMC and is obnoxiously awesome. It’s so big and bright that it is easily visible in telescopes and is not even in our own galaxy. When discovered, it was thought to be a single star residing in our galaxy. More observations led to observing a nebulosity existing around it, and ultimately, to the realization it is in another galaxy and lies 160,000 light years from Earth. Fun fact, almost everything we can see with the naked eye lies within a 1,000 light year “bubble” of sorts, with some bright stars lying outside. Most open star clusters are within a few thousand (some under 500). Hell, most globular clusters with millions of stars that we need telescopes to view are within 25,000 light years. The best nebula visible in the northern hemisphere is the Great Orion Nebula and is much better to view through binoculars, and that is 1,000 light years away. The Tarantula Nebula is, again, 160,000 miles away, a larger distance than the diameter of the entire Milky Way!

If this nebula were as close to Earth as the Great Orion Nebula (just over 1,000 light years), it would be bright enough to cast a shadow. Kaboom.


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