A fantastic photograph of the Cone nebula as seen by the Very Large Telescope in Chile. Image Credit: ESO.

Travel Across 2,500 Light-Years Into the Cone Nebula in This Stunning Video by the VLT

In this video, The Very Large Telescope in Chile will take you on a journey across 2,500 light years into the constellation Monoceros, offering a unique view of the Cone-shaped nebula.


I never get tired of looking at photographs of the cosmos. Whether it is a nebula, a star, or a distant galaxy. The universe is a massive cosmic canvas. And observatories such as the Very Large Telescope are evidence of that. These facilities are not mere observatories. These observatories are pioneers of cosmic art. Much attention has been given to the James Webb Space Telescope, and rightfully so. But we must not forget that we have state-of-the-art facilities here on Earth. One such facility is located in Chile, and it is a true wonder of astronomy.

The Very Large Telescope

Using the Very Large Telescope (VLT), a spectacular new image of the Cone Nebula celebrates 60 years (Happy Birthday!) of the European Southern Observatory (ESO). The video below will take you on an epic journey through space, interstellar space. You will zoom in closer and closer to a unique, specific region in space called the cone nebula.

This nebula is shaped by a seven-light-year-long pillar that was discovered by William Herschel in the late 18th century and is part of the star-forming region NGC 2264. A particular interest of NGC 2264 is that it refers to the Christmas Tree Cluster and the Cone Nebula as one object in the New General Catalogue. In addition to this designation, there are two other objects not officially included here: the Snowflake Cluster and the Fox Fur Nebula.

An appropriately named constellation

This horn-shaped nebula lies within Monoceros (the unicorn), an appropriately named constellation in the sky. A well-studied object, the Cone Nebula is located less than 2500 light-years from Earth. And even though it has been imaged and studied over the years, this novel view is unique. This view is more dramatic than any other. It depicts the nebula in a manner that resembles a mythological monster thanks to its dark and impenetrable cloud cover.


This nebula demonstrates how giant clouds of cold molecular gas and dust form pillar-like shapes. These are responsible for forming new stars. Stellar winds and ultraviolet radiation unleashed by massive, newly formed bright blue stars create this type of pillar. Gas and dust farther away from younger stars get compressed as this material is pushed away, resulting in tall, dense pillars of dust and gas. It is this process that creates the dark Cone Nebula, which appears to point away from the brilliance of NGC 2264. A similar phenomenon was demonstrated to us by the James Webb Telescope when it photographed the so-called Pillars of Creation.

Roses are red… well, not in this case. Here, sulfur is red

In this image, hydrogen gas is marked in blue, while sulfur gas is marked in red. This stellar piece of art was obtained with ESO’s FOcal Reducer and Low Dispersion Spectrograph 2 (FORS2). Through the use of these filters, the otherwise bright blue stars that suggest recent star formation appear almost golden, contrasting with the dark cone-like stars.

A stunning and awe-inspiring image like this is just one example of the incredible observations made by ESO telescopes over the past 60 years. Most ESO telescope time is spent on scientific observations, although this one was obtained for outreach purposes. With its telescopes, researchers have captured the first image of a planet outside our galaxy. Scientists also were able to study the black hole at the center of our galaxy and see evidence that our Universe is expanding rapidly.


Pioneers of astronomy

ESO continues to pioneer astronomy, technology, and international collaboration, building on more than 60 years of astronomy development, discovery, and cooperation. Best of all, we can look forward to a bright future. The current ESO facilities and the upcoming Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), will continue to address humanity’s biggest questions about the Universe. In the meantime, we can admire the universe’s secrets revealed by observatories like this.

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Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

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