Last updated March 28, 2018 at 1:30 pm
The European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile captured this image of a region rife with stars in the making.
The OmegaCAM camera on ESO’s VLT Survey Telescope has captured this glittering view of the stellar nursery called Sharpless 29.
The region of sky pictured is a region of interstellar clouds of ionised gas, rife with star formation. The dust and gas clouds in this region reflect, absorb, and re-emit the light of hot young stars within the nebula.
Sharpless 29 is located about 5500 light-years away in the constellation of Sagittarius (The Archer), next door to the larger Lagoon Nebula. It contains many astronomical wonders, including the highly active star formation site NGC 6559, the nebula at the centre of the image.
Though just a few light-years across, NGC 6559 showcases the havoc that stars can wreak when they form within an interstellar cloud. The hot young stars in this image are no more than two million years old and are blasting out streams of high-energy radiation.
When interstellar dust and gas are bombarded with ultraviolet light from hot young stars, the energy causes them to shine brilliantly. The diffuse red glow permeating this image comes from the emission of hydrogen gas, while the shimmering blue light is caused by reflection and scattering off small dust particles.
As well as emission and reflection, absorption takes place in this region. Patches of dust block out the light as it travels towards us, preventing us from seeing the stars behind it, and smaller tendrils of dust create the dark filamentary structures within the clouds.
But young, massive stars live fast and die young. They will eventually explosively end their lives in a supernova, leaving behind rich debris of gas and dust. In tens of millions of years, this will be swept away and only an open cluster of stars will remain.
Sharpless 29 was observed with ESO’s OmegaCAM on the VLT Survey Telescope (VST) at Cerro Paranal in Chile. OmegaCAM produces images that cover an area of sky more than 300 times greater than the largest field of view imager of the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, and can observe over a wide range of wavelengths from the ultraviolet to the infrared.