New images released by the European Southern Observatory give a clear image of the star-forming nebula Messier 78, usually hidden behind a screen of insterstellar dust.
The view was made possible by ESO’s Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA), which sees near-infrared light, which passes right through debris that blocks visible light.
Messier 78 is located approximately 1,600 light-years away in the constellation of Orion.
“When observed with visible light instruments, like ESO’s Wide Field Imager at the La Silla Observatory, Messier 78 appears as a glowing, azure expanse surrounded by dark ribbons [of dust],” the ESO wrote in a media release.
“Cosmic dust reflects and scatters the light streaming from the young, bluish stars in Messier 78’s heart, the reason it is known as a reflection nebula.”
Messier 78 is a prime region for the formation of new stars and observation using the near-infrared part of the spectrum, through the Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) provides astronomers with crucial information about the process.
“Besides big, blue, hot stars, VISTA can also see many stars that are just forming within the cosmic dust strewn about this region, their reddish and yellow colours shown clearly in this image,” ESO writes.
Some of these are T Tauri stars – Although relatively bright but not yet hot enough for nuclear fusion to have commenced in their cores.
“In several tens of millions of years, they will attain full ‘starhood’, and will take their place alongside their stellar brethren lighting up the Messier 78 region,” the ESO says.