Before you were conceived I wanted you
Before you were born I loved you
Before you were here an hour I would die for you
This is the miracle of love. -Maureen Hawkins
But I’m not talking about human children, I’m talking about the children of the stars. Stars burn their fuel until they no longer can, and then die in one of two impressive ways, depending on how massive they are. If a star is up to around four times as massive as our Sun, it dies by collapsing down to a white dwarf and blowing off its outer layers into a planetary nebula.
On the other hand, if your star is very massive — like more than four times as massive as our Sun — the white dwarf you’d want to make will collapse under its own pressure, creating a supernova! This spectacular explosion is way more violent than the tame planetary nebula, and leaves a remnant full of gas and many light-years wide.
These latter ones — supernova remnants — are often the trigger for the formation of new stars. Let’s take a look at one in particular: The Tarantula Nebula.
Over 100,000 light years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud, this supernova remnant leaves a giant cloud of gas strewn across space. Well, give this cloud of gas enough time and enough gravity, and what’s going to happen? It’s going to collapse into clumps. What happens when you get a bunch of gas gravitationally collapsed into clumps? They start to ignite the nuclear fusion reactions, and form new stars! So what does Hubble see when it looks in at the center of this region?
A bunch of blue stars! Is that because these are baby boys? No; it’s because when you form stars, you form them of all types: from the many cool, dim, red K- and M-type stars to the few hot, bright, blue O- and B-type stars.
The O- and B-type stars, because of how massive they are, burn through their fuel very quickly: in a few million years at most. So when we find these bright, blue stars, we know that this is a very young cluster of stars!
Well, this Hubble picture — like all Hubble pictures — comes in extremely high resolution. So what does this inner, star-rich region really look like?
In a mere 200 million years — 2% of the total lifetime of our Sun — all of these hot, young, blue stars will have burned out and died. Yet, for the time being, Hubble can enjoy these short-lived stars, and you can get an ultra-close up of them, even though they’re over 100,000 light-years away!
And remember, every supernova that you see, hear, or read about is destined — in merely a few thousand years — to give rise to a whole host of new stars, just like in these images.