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Friday, January 24, 2014

The Lagoon Nebula as seen by the VST

The Lagoon Nebula as seen by the VST
Click on the image for full resolution (7.9 MB)

The VLT Survey Telescope (VST) at ESO's Paranal Observatory in Chile has captured this richly detailed new image of the Lagoon Nebula. This giant cloud of gas and dust is creating intensely bright young stars, and is home to young stellar clusters. This image is a tiny part of just one of eleven public surveys of the sky now in progress using ESO telescopes. Together these are providing a vast legacy of publicly available data for the global astronomical community. The Lagoon Nebula is an intriguing object located around 5000 light-years from us in the constellation of Sagittarius (The Archer). Also known as Messier 8 (M8), it is a giant cloud 100 light-years across, where new stars are forming within its plumes of gas and dust. This new 16 000-pixel-wide image is from the VST, one of two dedicated survey telescopes at ESO's Paranal Observatory in northern Chile. A zoomable version of the image allows the viewers to explore the many nooks and crannies of this fascinating object. The VST was not pointed at the Lagoon deliberately, it simply was included as part of a huge imaging survey called VPHAS+ that covered a much larger region of the Milky Way. VPHAS+ is just one of three imaging surveys using visible light with the VST. These are complemented by six infrared surveys with the VISTA survey telescope. The surveys are addressing many important questions in modern astronomy. These include the nature of dark energy, searching for brilliant quasars in the early Universe, probing the structure of the Milky Way and looking for unusual and hidden objects, studying the neighbouring Magellanic Clouds in great detail, and many other topics. History shows that surveys often find things that are unexpected and these surprises are crucial for the progress of astronomical research. As well as the nine imaging surveys with VISTA and the VST there are also two additional surveys that are in progress using other ESO telescopes. One, the Gaia-ESO Survey, is using the Very Large Telescope at Paranal to map the properties of more than 100 000 stars in the Milky Way, and another (PESSTO) is following up on transient objects such as supernovae using the New Technology Telescope at La Silla.
Image Credit: ESO/VPHAS+ team
Image enhancement: Jean-Baptiste Faure

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