A 67-million-pixel photograph of a stellar nursery located around 6,000 light-years from Earth.
Observing a cosmic serpent…
Humankind has been observing the night sky for hundreds of thousands of years. Throughout millennia, humans have paid great attention to the countless cosmic objects, their movements, and eventual shapes. As our ancestors observed the stars, they began identifying curious patterns and shapes. A few thousand years ago, the ancient Greeks would eventually see specific patterns and start naming different forms with different names.
Serpens, a cosmic serpent
For example, they would identify a particular pattern as Serpens, given that the stars formed a shape that resembled what they thought looked like a serpent, a cosmic serpent. However, since they lacked telescopes, they could not zoom in and observe the constellation in its true beauty. Nevertheless, they could see that within this constellation are several stunning astronomical objects, including the Eagle, Omega, and Sh2-54 nebulae. Now, the European Southern Observatory turned its “eyes” towards the Sh2-54 nebulae revealing striking features.
Nebulae are essentially cosmic nurseries. Home to vast clouds of gas and dust, nebulae contribute to star formation. With state-of-the-art telescopes, scientists can now peer into these cosmic objects like never before. Astronomers can now see and analyze the faintest parts of celestial objects in unprecedented detail.
6,000 light-years away
The stunning nebula in this infrared view is located at a distance of around 6,000 light-years from Earth. As we advance our technology to explore the cosmos, our understanding of different objects moves forward. With an infrared view of the nebulae, scientists can better understand its environment, allowing them to learn more about what exactly takes place within these stellar nurseries. This, in turn, helps scientists better understand how stars are formed. In addition, this infrared view allows scientists to see past thick layers of dust, revealing a wealth of hidden stars. The photograph we see here was taken with a 67-million-pixel camera on ESO’s VISTA telescope at Paranal Observatory in Chile.