Press Release

Gaseous Streamers Flutter in Stellar Breeze in New Hubble Image

By SpaceRef Editor
May 9, 2002
Filed under , ,

Resembling the hair in Botticelli’s famous portrait of the birth of Venus, an image from
NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has captured softly glowing filaments streaming from hot young
stars in a nearby nebula.

The image, presented by the Hubble Heritage Project, was taken in 1996 by Hubble’s Wide
Field and Planetary Camera 2, designed and built by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena,
Calif. The image is available online at , or .

On the top right of the image is a source of its artistic likeness, a network of nebulous
filaments surrounding the Wolf-Rayet star. This type of rare star is characterized by an exceptionally
vigorous “wind” of charged particles. The shock of the wind colliding with the surrounding gas
causes the gas to glow.

The Wolf-Rayet star is part of N44C, a nebula of glowing hydrogen gas surrounding young
stars in the Large Magellanic Cloud. Visible from the Southern Hemisphere, the Large Magellanic
Cloud is a small companion galaxy to the Milky Way.

What makes N44C peculiar is the temperature of the star that illuminates it. The most massive
stars — those that are 10 to 50 times more massive than the Sun—have maximum temperatures of
30,000 to 50,000 degrees Celsius (54,000 to 90,000 degrees Fahrenheit). The temperature of this star
is about 75,000 degrees Celsius (135,000 degrees Fahrenheit). This unusually high temperature may
be due to a neutron star or black hole that occasionally produces X-rays but is now inactive.

N44C is part of a larger complex that 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 Hubble image.

The Space Telescope Science Institute is operated by the Association of Universities for
Research in Astronomy, Inc., for NASA, under contract with the Goddard Space Flight Center,
Greenbelt, MD. The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA
and the European Space Agency.

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

SpaceRef staff editor.