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This Extraordinary Celestial Structure Is The Product Of A Double Supernova

A single supernova cannot be behind the beautiful formation.


Dr. Alfredo Carpineti


Dr. Alfredo Carpineti

Senior Staff Writer & Space Correspondent

Alfredo (he/him) has a PhD in Astrophysics on galaxy evolution and a Master's in Quantum Fields and Fundamental Forces.

Senior Staff Writer & Space Correspondent

Edited by Laura Simmons
Laura Simmons - Editor and Staff Writer

Laura Simmons

Editor and Staff Writer

Laura is an editor and staff writer at IFLScience. She obtained her Master's in Experimental Neuroscience from Imperial College London.

The entire image is awash in intricate clouds, and swathes of superheated gas. At our upper lefthand corner is a thick, coral pink and wine-colored cloud with a texture resembling cotton candy. At our lower and upper right is a network of deep red clouds that resemble streaks of thick red syrup floating in water. A layer of wispy blue cloud appears to be present across the entire image, but is most evident at our lower left which is free of overlapping gas. Glowing pink, orange, and purple specks of light, which are stars, dot the image.  In the center of the frame is a bright purple and pink cloud, aglow with brilliant white dots, and streaked with lightning-like veins. This is 30 Doradus B, which is delineated by a faint shell of X-rays identified by Chandra. Within this supernova remnant are high energy shocks and winds of particles blowing away from a pulsar.

The composite image shows the X-rays glowing in purple overlays to the nebula structure and stars seen by Hubble.

Image credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Penn State Univ./L. Townsley et al.; Optical: NASA/STScI/HST; Infrared: NASA/JPL/CalTech/SST; Image Processing: NASA/CXC/SAO/J. Schmidt, N. Wolk, K. Arcand

In the galaxy next door lies an intriguing nebula we call Tarantula. Inside, stars have been born and have died for millions of years. The closest supernova in the last 50 years comes from its outskirts, Supernova 1987A. But another supernova remnant in this nebula has caught the eye of the researchers lately: 30 Doradus B. Because it doesn’t really make sense.

Astronomers were studying the pulsar PSR J0537-6910 and its surrounding area in a variety of wavelengths. Pulsars are a type of neutron star, which release jets of material that at regular intervals are shot towards us. Neutron stars are one of the possible end products of supernovae, for stars that are massive enough to end up exploding but not so massive that they form a black hole.


Pulsars are extremely energetic objects releasing light across multiple wavelengths from X-rays to radio. So studying a supernova remnant across these different types of light provides a lot of insights – until things break apart, and we get even more.  

By using the pulsar's properties, such as how quickly it is slowing down, they estimated the supernova happened 5,000 years ago. Using NASA’s Chandra telescope, which looks at the universe in X-rays, astronomers were able to follow the stream of energetic particles from the pulsar. This creates a pulsar wind nebula. They also found a halo of X-rays, a common feature in supernovae, centered around the pulsar region. But this halo is just too big to have formed within the last five millennia. It extends for over 130 light-years.

So researchers suspect that another supernova took place in the vicinity earlier than 5,000 years ago, resulting in the structures that are witnessed in the observations. The requirement is at least two supernovae, but the faint diffuse X-ray halo might suggest that the region has experienced a string of supernovae over the cosmically recent time. The region around 30 Doradus B has been forming stars nonstop for at least 8 million years, maybe up to 10 million years.

It’s the whole Tarantula Nebula that is an indefatigable star-making factory. Located in the Large Magellanic Cloud, 160,000 light-years away, it is brighter than many stars in our galaxy. The whole region is so bright that if it were located at the distance of the Orion Nebula it could cast visible shadows (light pollution permitting).


The nebula was also recently snapped by JWST creating a magnificent composition. 

The study is published in The Astronomical Journal.


spaceSpace and PhysicsspaceAstronomy
  • tag
  • supernova,

  • Large Magellanic Cloud,

  • pulsar,

  • Astronomy,

  • X-rays,

  • Tarantula Nebula