Vast clouds of gas within which stars are born. This was the most recent awe-inspiring area of exploration for the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT).
Astronomers directed the state-of-the-art telescope toward the Large Magellanic Cloud, one of the closest galaxies to our own. Focusing on the constellation of Dorado (The Swordfish), a mere 160,000 light-years from us — peanuts to an astronomer — the team investigated this previously little-explored but highly-active region discovering clouds of dust and gas where hot new stars are being born, warping their surroundings as a result.
In the image, taken by the VLT at the Paranal Observatory, an area called NGC 2035, dubbed the Dragon’s Head Nebula, comes to life in extraordinary detail. This HII region, or emission nebula, consists of clouds that glow due to the energetic radiation given off by young stars.
While the radiation strips electrons from atoms within the gas — which eventually recombine with other atoms to release light — dark clumps of dust absorb light, creating weaving lanes and dark shapes across the otherwise glowing nebula. The result is an incredible kaleidoscope of color and darkness on a massive scale, hundreds of light-years across.
As well as star births, dramatic images of their deaths were also captured. Visible on the left, the filamentary shapes are the remnants of a supernova explosion. Some of the most violent events that can happen in the universe, these explosions are so bright that they often briefly outshine their entire host galaxy before fading from view over several weeks or months.
Due to its almost non-existent humidity and clear skies, the Atacama is the world’s premier location for astronomy. Chile is home to almost half the world’s telescope infrastructure, and this is set to increase to over two thirds in the next decade.
If, however, you can’t get to the Atacama to see these sights, there is another way to enjoy the wonders of the universe: The Chile Mobile Observatory app, created by Fundación Imagen de Chile. Offering users the 100 best ESI images on their mobile devices or tablets, anyone can enjoy these incredible sights on the go and completely free of charge.
To download the app, simply go to the Google Play store.