Ionization structure in the 30 Doradus Nebula as seen with Hubble Space Telescope Wide Field Planetary Camera 2

P. A. Scowen, J. J. Hester, R. Sankrit, J. S. Gallagher, G. E. Ballester, C. J. Burrows, J. T. Clarke, D. Crisp, R. W. Evans, R. E. Griffiths, J. G. Hoessel, J. A. Holtzman, J. Krist, J. R. Mould, K. R. Stapelfeldt, J. T. Trauger, A. M. Watson, J. A. Westphal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Using the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) and Wide Field Planetary Camera 2, we have imaged the central 20 pc of the giant H II region 30 Doradus Nebula in three different emission lines. The images allow us to study the nebula with a physical resolution that is within a factor of 2 of that of typical ground-based observations of Galactic H II regions. We present a gallery of interesting objects within the region studied. These include a tube blown by the wind of a high-velocity star and a discrete H II region around an isolated B star. This small isolated H II region appears to be in the midst of the champagne flow phase of its evolution. Most of the emission within 30 Dor is confined to a thin zone located between the hot interior of the nebula and surrounding dense molecular material. This zone appears to be directly analogous to the photoionized photoevaporative flows that dominate emission from small, nearby H II regions. For example, a column of material protruding from the cavity wall to the south of the main cluster is found to be a direct analog to elephant trunks in M16. Surface brightness profiles across this structure are very similar to surface brightness profiles taken at ground-based resolution across the head of the largest column in M16. The dynamical effects of the photoevaporative flow can be seen as well. An arcuate feature located above this column and a similar feature surrounding a second nearby column are interpreted as shocks in which the photoevaporative flow stagnates against the high-temperature gas that fills the majority of the nebula. The ram pressure in the photoevaporative flow, derived from thermal pressure at the surface of the column, is found to balance with the pressure in the interior of the nebula derived from previous X-ray observations. By analogy with the comparison of ground-based and HST images of M16, we infer that the same sharply stratified structure seen in HST images of M16 almost certainly underlies the observed structure in 30 Doradus, which is a crucial case because it allows us to bridge the gap between nearby H II regions and the giant H II regions seen in distant galaxies. The real significance of this result is that it demonstrates that the physical understanding gained from detailed study of photoevaporative interfaces in nearby H II regions can be applied directly to interpretation of giant H II regions. Stated another way, interpretation of observations of giant H II regions must account for the fact that this emission arises not from expansive volumes of ionized gas but instead from highly localized and extremely sharply stratified physical structures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)163-179
Number of pages17
JournalAstronomical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1998
Externally publishedYes


  • H II regions
  • ISM: individual (30 Doradus)
  • ISM: structure
  • Magellanic clouds

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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