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Multiple Generations of Stars in the Tarantula Nebula

At the center of the most violent starburst region in the local universe lies a cluster of brilliant, massive stars, known to astronomers as Hodge 301.

Hodge 301, seen in the lower left-hand corner of this image, lives inside the Tarantula Nebula in our nearest galactic neighbor, the Large Magellanic Cloud.

This star cluster is not the brightest, or youngest, or most populous star cluster in the Tarantula Nebula -- that honor goes to the spectacular R136. In fact, Hodge 301 is almost 10 times older than the young cluster R136.

But age has its advantages; many of the stars in Hodge 301 are so old that they have exploded as supernovae. These exploded stars are blasting material out into the surrounding region at speeds of almost 300 miles per second. This high speed ejecta is plowing into the surrounding Tarantula Nebula, shocking and pressing the gas into a multitude of sheets and filaments, seen in the upper left portion of the picture.

Note for your calendar: Hodge 301 contains three so called red supergiants - stars that are close to the end of their evolution and are about to go supernovae, exploding and sending more shocks into the Tarantula.

Also present near the center of the image are small, dense gas globules and dust columns where new stars are being formed today, as part of the overall ongoing star formation throughout the Tarantula region.