The Very Large Telescope (VLT) at Chile’s Cerro Paranal observatory – currently the largest optical telescope in the world – has captured the most precise image yet seen of the birth of the Carina Nebula, more than 7,500 light years from earth.
The infra-red photo shows the formation of giant stars and was constructed from piecing together 100 images taken from the VLT in the Atacama Desert.
Photos had been taken of the nebula before, but gas clouds and stellar dust produced meant that capturing a clear image was impossible using conventional technology. Now, thanks to an infrared camera with the capacity to penetrate this matter, thousands of young stars can be clearly identified in distinct phases of their life cycles.
The VLT is part of the European Southern Observatory (ESO), the organization which is building the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT). Also located in the north of Chile, the E-ELT will have a diameter of 39 meters and will be the largest earthbound telescope ever built. It is expected to be completed in 2016.
Unique climatic conditions in the north of Chile mean that it is considered the best place in the world for stargazing. The dryness and altitude of the Atacama, along with the lack of clouds and low light pollution, make it a veritable astronomer’s paradise.