Bright Starbirth Region In A Dim Galaxy
Clusters of stars and a fishhook-shaped cloud of luminescent gases glow brilliantly in NGC 2363,
a giant star-forming region in the Magellanic galaxy NGC 2366. Even though the nebula is 10
million light-years away, the Hubble Space Telescope resolves details comparable to such nebulae
in our own galaxy. This region is as bright as the gigantic 30 Doradus nebula in the Large
Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy to our Milky Way.
The brightest star visible on this image (at the tip of the fishhook) is a rare class called an
erupting Luminous Blue Variable (LBV). This monstrous star (30 to 60 times as massive as the Sun)
is in a very unstable, eruptive phase of its life. The Hubble images are the only ones in which
the star can be clearly isolated from the rest of the cluster. Only four giant LBV eruptions
have been recorded in history, the most famous being those of Eta Carinae (1837-1860) and P
Cygni (1600), within our own galaxy.
The LBV was discovered in Hubble pictures taken in January 1996, by comparing these images with
ground-based photos. An archival search of previous ground-based images showed the star grew 40
times brighter (21.5 to 17.8 magnitude) within three years -- now making it the brightest star
in its galaxy.
Jonathan Eisenhamer --
Office of Public Outreach --