Incredible Image Shows 'Gargantuan Bubble' of New Stars in Nearby Galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud

An image showing a "gargantuan bubble" of new stars in one of the Milky Way's neighboring galaxies has been captured by scientists. The image, which shows stars in the N180 B region of the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), was taken by researchers at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) using the Very Large Telescope observatory in Chile.

The LMC is a small galaxy that orbits the Milky Way. It sits around 160,000 light-years from Earth—which cosmically speaking is very close—and its single spiral arm is almost directly facing us. This makes studying it fairly straightforward.

Researchers were looking at a type of nebula known as an H II region. These are clouds of ionized hydrogen that serve as "stellar nurseries," the ESO said. The newly formed stars in these regions ionize the surrounding gas, producing the vast bubbles seen in the latest image of N180 B, an H II nebula.

Stellar nursery in Large Magellanic Cloud
The newly imaged region of the Large Magellanic Cloud, where stars are forming. ESO, A McLeod et al.

The latest image, which was taken with the Very Large Telescope's Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer, shows "a gargantuan bubble of ionised hydrogen surrounded by four smaller bubbles," the observatory said. "Deep within this glowing cloud, MUSE has spotted a jet emitted by a fledgling star—a massive young stellar object with a mass 12 times greater than our sun."

This jet, which has been named Herbig-Haro 1177, can be seen in the image below.

Jet from star in LMC
The jet emitted by a fledgling star. ESO, A McLeod et al.

"This is the first time such a jet has been observed in visible light outside the Milky Way, as they are usually obscured by their dusty surroundings," the ESO statement said. "However, the relatively dust-free environment of the LMC allows HH 1177 to be observed at visible wavelengths. At nearly 33 light-years in length, it is one of the longest such jets ever observed."

In a study published in Nature, researchers say that the presence of the jet suggests the system is growing through accretion and that it "probably formed through a scaled-up version of the formation mechanism of low-mass stars."

The LMC is just one of the Milky Way's neighboring galaxies. Last week, NASA announced the "accidental" discovery of another nearby galaxy, which it has named Bedin 1. Scientists were using the Hubble Space Telescope to study some of the faintest stars in a globular cluster when they noticed a previously undetected galaxy sitting just 40 million light-years away.

NASA estimates it formed in isolation around 13 billion years ago, just after the Big Bang. This meant it had very little interaction with nearby galaxies, making it "the astronomical equivalent of a living fossil from the early universe."