Hidden young stars in the Cat?s Paw Nebula are revealed in a spectacular new infrared image taken of the nebular nursery, the birthplace of hundreds of massive stars.
The stunning new photo from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) used infrared light to penetrate through the glowing gas and dust clouds that normally obscure the view of the young stars.
The image was taken by the Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) at the Paranal Observatory in Chile.
The Cat?s Paw Nebula, NGC 6334, is located in the constellation of Scorpius (The Scorpion), towards the heart of the Milky Way, about 5,500 light-years from Earth.
The nebula stretches across 50 light-years. In visible light, gas and dust are illuminated by hot young stars that create the strange reddish shapes that give the object its nickname. This nebula is one of the most active nurseries of massive stars in our galaxy.
VISTA, the latest addition to ESO?s Paranal Observatory in the Chilean Atacama Desert, is equipped with the largest infrared camera on any Earth-bound telescope. It works at infrared wavelengths that can see through much of the dust that clouds the Cat?s Paw Nebula, revealing objects that are hidden from the sight of visible light telescopes.
Visible light tends to be scattered and absorbed by interstellar dust, but that dust is almost transparent to infrared light.
Some of the massive stars discovered in the Cat?s Paw Nebula are nearly ten times the mass of the sun. Infrared views allow astronomers to learn more about how these stars form and develop in their first few million years of life.
VISTA?s very wide field of view also allows the whole star-forming region to be imaged in one shot with greater clarity.
This recent VISTA image is filled with countless stars of our Milky Way galaxy overlaid with spectacular tendrils of dark dust that are seen here in full for the first time.
In many of the dusty areas, such as those close to the center of the picture, features that appear orange are apparent ? evidence of otherwise hidden active young stars and their accompanying jets.
Further out, slightly older stars are laid bare to VISTA?s view, revealing the processes taking them from their first nuclear fusion along the unsteady path of the first few million years of their lives.
The VISTA telescope will now embark on several large surveys of the southern sky that will take a few years to complete.
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