Peering into clouds of dust to know star formation

A latest image from the European Southern Observatory shows a surprising starscape across the nebula Sh2-54, situated 6,000 light-years away within the constellation of Serpens. Situated close within the sky to the famous Eagle Nebula, this can also be a busy region of star formation where clouds of dust and gas are coalescing into knots and forming the hearts of recent stars.

Nebulae like these are often called stellar nurseries due to all the brand new stars that form inside them, and astronomers study them to learn more about stellar lifecycles and the conditions that are required for stars to form and grow.

This image of the spectacular Sh2-54 nebula was taken in infrared light using ESO’s VISTA telescope at Paranal Observatory in Chile. The clouds of dust and gas which can be normally obvious in visible light are less evident here, and on this light we are able to see the sunshine of the celebrities behind the nebulae now piercing through. ESO/VVVX

The image was taken within the infrared range, which implies less of the clouds of dust that form the nebula are visible. As a substitute, astronomers can glance through the clouds of dust to see the celebrities forming inside. It was taken using the Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) telescope, a ground-based telescope situated within the Atacama desert, a highly elevated and really dry location in Chile.

VISTA is a component of the Paranal Observatory, which incorporates other telescopes just like the Very Large Telescope and the VLT Survey Telescope. This location is some of the popular places on the planet for constructing ground-based telescopes since it very rarely rains there, meaning there’s also no cloud cover on most nights so telescopes can observe the night sky more often. It’s also in a sparsely populated area, so there could be very little interference from radio signals and little light pollution.

This particular image was taken using VISTA’s 67-million-pixel camera as a part of a survey called VVV. This survey uses a wide selection of telescopes including Hubble, Chandra, and VISTA to take a look at the bulge of the Milky Way which can also be a busy area for star formation.

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