Mysteries of Chile’s skies revealed online

Powerful VLT Survey Telescope maps and releases incredibly detailed image of planet forming Lagoon Nebula to the public.

A new and incredibly detailed image of the Lagoon Nebula — a giant planet-forming cloud of gas and dust located over 4000 light years away from Earth — has been captured by Chile’s VLT Survey Telescope (VST) at the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Paranal Observatory.

The Lagoon Nebula is home to young stellar clusters and is creating a number of intensely bright, young stars — rustling up considerable interest within the astronomical community.

ESO’s Paranal Observatory, which houses the powerful VST, has proudly released a zoomable, online version of the 16,000-pixel-wide image, allowing viewers to explore the finer details of the nebula. This latest images follows other successes from the VST has including detailed images of the Swan Nebula and the Omega Centauri star cluster.

“The Lagoon Nebula is a huge star formation region, one of only two that is visible with the naked eye. Stars are being born in clumps in the nebula, it’s a stellar nursery,” James Jenkins, an astronomer at the Universidad de Chile, told This is Chile. “At its longest point the width of the Nebula is nearly 70,000 times larger than that of our entire solar system.”

Astrologists in Chile are studying the nature of dark energy, searching for brilliant quasars in the early Universe, probing structures in the Milky Way and looking for hidden objects in deep space — all part of three surveys in which the VST is being used.

History shows that surveys of this nature often unearth the unexpected and many surprises have been discovered that have been vital for the progress of astronomical research.

Data reaching as far back to 2010, previously hidden in ESO’s archive, is now being made available to the public — initiating further discoveries from astronomers. New results include the findings of novel star clusters, the most detailed map yet of the Milky Way, a very deep view of the infrared sky and some of the most distant quasars ever discovered.

ESO’s public surveys are set to continue for many years, providing the public and astronomers alike with valuable information regarding discoveries of the universe. Several sophisticated telescopes are operated from Chile’s Atacama Desert region, — home to some of the clearest skies in the world.

As a result many scientists and astronomers gravitate towards Chile. Aside from the Atacama, ESO facilities are also operated at La Silla, in the Coquimbo region.