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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 a 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
N44C is the designation for a region of glowing 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
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 54,000 to
90,000 degrees Fahrenheit (30,000 to 50,000 degrees Kelvin). The star
illuminating N44C appears to be significantly hotter, with a temperature
of about 135,000 degrees Fahrenheit (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
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).
May 9, 2002
Image Credit: NASA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)