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NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has peered at a small area within the
Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) to provide the deepest color picture ever
obtained in that satellite galaxy of our own Milky Way.
Over 10,000 stars can be seen in the photo, covering a region in the
LMC about 130 light-years wide. The faintest stars in the picture are
some 100 million times dimmer than the human eye's limit of visibility.
Our Sun, if located in the LMC, would be one of the faintest stars in
the photograph, indistinguishable from the swarm of other similar stars.
Also visible in the image are sheets of glowing gas, and dark patches
of interstellar dust silhouetted against the stars and gas behind them.
The LMC is a small companion galaxy of our own Milky Way, visible only
from Earth's southern hemisphere. It is named after Ferdinand Magellan,
one of the first Europeans to explore the world's southern regions. The
LMC attracts the attention of modern-day astronomers because, at a
distance of only 168,000 light-years, it is one of the nearest galaxies.
The Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) image was taken in 1996 in
Hubble's "parallel" mode while another of the telescope's
instruments, the Faint Object Spectrograph, was taking
long exposures of the LMC's Tarantula Nebula. The Tarantula,
lying outside the field of view of the WFPC2 photograph, is a
tremendous cloud of gas, within which new stars are forming.
NASA astronomers Sally Heap, Eliot Malumuth, and Philip Plait, who
work at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland,
pointed Hubble's spectrograph at the core of the Tarantula to
investigate its young stars. They also switched on WFPC2 at the same
time, in order to obtain the image presented here.
The Hubble Heritage Team later combined the WFPC2 images, taken
through different color filters, in order to create the color picture
shown here. The range of star colors visible in the WFPC2 image reveals
the variety of stellar surface temperatures. Hot stars, with
temperatures of 10,000 degrees Celsius and above, have a bluish-white
color; stars cooler than our Sun's 6,000 degrees Celsius are reddish.
December 2, 1999
Photo Credit: NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI)