Skip to main content

Hubble spots a ‘superbubble’ in a beautiful emission nebula

The Hubble Space Telescope may be experiencing problems this week, but it continues to offer a massive trove of data for astronomers to explore — including this week’s image of the beautiful and mysterious nebula N44.

This nebula has a highly unusual feature: A hole in its center, hundreds of light-years across, which forms a gap called a “superbubble.” N44 is a type of nebula called an emission nebula, which means it is a cloud of dust and gas which has been ionized by radiation from nearby stars and so which emits light in the visible wavelength. However, emission nebulae don’t typically have big holes in their centers, and scientists are still figuring out why N44 has this odd feature.

A dark, starry gap called a “superbubble,” visible in this Hubble Space Telescope image of Nebular N44 in the upper central region.
N44 is a complex nebula filled with glowing hydrogen gas, dark lanes of dust, massive stars, and many populations of stars of different ages. One of its most distinctive features, however, is the dark, starry gap called a “superbubble,” visible in this Hubble Space Telescope image in the upper central region. NASA, ESA, V. Ksoll and D. Gouliermis (Universität Heidelberg), et al.; Processing: Gladys Kober (NASA/Catholic University of America)

“The hole is about 250 light-years wide and its presence is still something of a mystery,” the Hubble scientists write. “Stellar winds expelled by massive stars in the bubble’s interior may have driven away the gas, but this is inconsistent with measured wind velocities in the bubble. Another possibility, since the nebula is filled with massive stars that would expire in titanic explosions, is that the expanding shells of old supernovae sculpted the cosmic cavern.”

N44 is huge, spanning 1,000 light-years across, and is located 170,000 light-years away in a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way called the Large Magellanic Cloud. Researchers have identified the bright blue area shown at the bottom right of the bubble as being the hottest region where stars are being formed at the fastest rate. The creation of hot stars gives rise to stellar winds which are unusually powerful in this nebula, reaching incredible speeds of over 4 million miles per hour.

Editors' Recommendations

Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
Hubble spots a bright galaxy peering out from behind a dark nebula
The subject of this image taken with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope is the spiral galaxy IC 4633, located 100 million light-years away from us in the constellation Apus. IC 4633 is a galaxy rich in star-forming activity and also hosts an active galactic nucleus at its core. From our point of view, the galaxy is tilted mostly towards us, giving astronomers a fairly good view of its billions of stars.

A new image from the Hubble Space Telescope shows a galaxy partly hidden by a huge cloud of dust known as a dark nebula. The galaxy IC 4633 still shines brightly and beautifully in the main part of the image, but to the bottom right, you can see dark smudges of dust that are blocking the light from this part of the galaxy.

Taken using Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) instrument, the image also incorporates data from the DECam instrument on the Víctor M. Blanco 4-meter Telescope, which is located in Chile. By bringing together data from the space-based Hubble and the ground-based DECam, astronomers can get a better look at this galaxy, located 100 million light-years away, and the dark dust partially obscuring it.

Read more
This beautiful nebula holds a starry mystery at its heart
This image, taken with the VLT Survey Telescope hosted at ESO’s Paranal Observatory, shows the beautiful nebula NGC 6164/6165, also known as the Dragon’s Egg. The nebula is a cloud of gas and dust surrounding a pair of stars called HD 148937.

A gorgeous nebula turns out to hold a surprise at its center: a pair of stars that don't match as they should. Researchers looking at the beautiful NGC 6164/6165 nebula were surprised to learn that one of the pair of stars it hosts appears to be much older than the other, giving clues to the dramatic situation in which the nebula was born.

Pairs of stars aren't unusual in nebulae, but they are typically very similar. Normally, you would expect a pair to be similar in terms of age and mass, as they would have formed around the same time. But in this nebula, located 3,800 light-years away, one member of the pair is 1.5 million years older than the other, and the younger star is also magnetic, unlike its older counterpart.

Read more
The first views of the eclipse are coming in, and they’re stunning
Still from the NASA livestream of the total eclipse in Russellville, Arkansas on March 8, 2024.

Eclipse mania is gripping swaths of the U.S. as today is the day that a total solar eclipse passes across the country from Texas to Maine. The eclipse began in Mexico at 2:07 p.m. ET and is sweeping up and across the U.S., with plenty of excellent views despite concerns about the weather in many places.

NASA is live-streaming views of the eclipse captured from various locations along the path of totality, which is a great way to enjoy the event if you are outside the region where it is visible.

Read more