The stars next door


New imaging reveals the majesty of the galaxy next door. Andrew Masterson reports.


The Tarantula Nebula, seen at the top of this picture, imaged by the European Southern Observatory.
The Tarantula Nebula, seen at the top of this picture, imaged by the European Southern Observatory.
ESO

Say hello to the neighbours. The European Southern Observatory (ESO) has released a stunning new image of the Tarantula Nebula that sits within the Large Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf galaxy close to the Milky Way.

The image was compiled using data from VLT Survey Telescope at the ESO Paranal Observatory in Chile.

Although officially a dwarf, the Large Magellanic Cloud still measures more than 14,000 light-years across.

The Tarantula Nebula, visible at the top of the image, spans 1000 light-years from side to side.

The ESO image shows a giant star cluster called NGC 2070, located in the centre of the nebula, which is home to some of the largest and brightest stars ever recorded. They are so luminous, in fact, that they were first recorded in 1751 by French astronomer Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille.

Almost a century later, British astronomer John Herschel – son of William – noted another extraordinary feature of the Tarantula Nebula, a supernova remnant today known as SNR N157B. Dubbed a “super-bubble”, it encloses an open star cluster called NGC 2060.

ESO

Herschel also identified another feature of the Large Magellanic Cloud, visible in the ESO image to the left of the nebula: a dust structure known as the Seahorse. In reality, it is a gigantic dust pillar about 20 light-years long – five times the distance between the sun and the next nearest star, Alpha Centauri.

The ESO’s image was obtained using a custom-designed camera positioned within the VLT Survey Telescope. Called the OmegaCam, it boasts 256 megapixels and uses four different filters, including one designed to pick up the glowing red signature of ionised hydrogen.

  1. http://www.eso.org/public/teles-instr/paranal-observatory/surveytelescopes/vst/
  2. https://academic.oup.com/astrogeo/article/43/2/2.25/281196
  3. https://www.famousscientists.org/john-herschel/
  4. https://www.eso.org/sci/facilities/paranal/instruments/omegacam.html
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