30 Doradus

Stars are born at a great rate in this section of the Tarantula Nebula. Credit: ESO/R. Fosbury (ST-ECF)

Astronomy and astrophysics

Big baby stars burst into life in the Tarantula Nebula

Proportion of young, massive stars hints that more black holes might lurk than realized.

A star-forming region of dense dust and gas known as the Tarantula Nebula hosts an unexpectedly high number of massive stars.

Stellar nurseries are thought to produce a multitude of low-mass stars and relatively few massive stars. The precise distribution of masses is difficult to confirm because massive stars are short-lived.

Fabian Schneider at the University of Oxford, UK, and his colleagues observed more than 800 stars in the Tarantula Nebula, which lies in a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way. They calculate that the nebula contains nearly one-third more stars of at least 30 times the mass of the Sun than predicted by the most commonly used star-formation model.

Regions of intense starburst activity are analogues for the early Universe: both are thought to be relatively hot and low in heavy metals. The conditions in the Tarantula Nebula suggest that massive stars and their exotic remnants — such as black holes — might have formed more often in the young cosmos than predicted, the authors suggest.