Baby Stars Sparkle in New Photo of Tarantula Nebula
This VISTA image shows the spectacular 30 Doradus star-forming region, also called the Tarantula Nebula. At its core is a large cluster of stars known as R 136, in which some of the most massive stars known are located. This infrared image, made with ESO's VISTA survey telescope, is from the VISTA Magellanic Cloud Survey.
Credit: ESO/M.-R. Cioni/VISTA Magellanic Cloud survey. Acknowledgment: Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit

Violet sparkles of baby stars lighten the dark field of the Tarantula Nebula, a yellow-tinged cloud of gas in a nearby galaxy, in a new photo released this week.

Captured by the European Southern Observatory (ESO)'s VISTA telescope at the Paranal Observatory in Chile, this image is one of the first taken in an ambitious survey of our neighboring galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud. [See the new photo]

"This view is of one of the most important regions of star formation in the local universe ? the spectacular 30 Doradus star-forming region, also called the Tarantula Nebula," said lead researcher Maria-Rosa Cioni of the University of Hertfordshire in the U.K. "At its core is a large cluster of stars called RMC 136, in which some of the most massive stars known are located."

Most of the young stars in this region are cloaked by  gas and dust where they were formed. But the near-infrared wavelengths that the VISTA telescope observes in are longer than visible light, making them able to pierce these obstructions and illuminate the fine details of nebula.

By the end of the VISTA Magellanic Cloud Survey, the telescope will have imaged 184 square degrees of the sky ? equivalent to 1,000 times the area of the full moon as seen from Earth.

"The VISTA images will allow us to extend our studies beyond the inner regions of the Tarantula into the multitude of smaller stellar nurseries nearby, which also harbor a rich population of young and massive stars," said researcher Chris Evans from the VISTA survey team. "Armed with the new, exquisite infrared images, we will be able to probe the cocoons in which massive stars are still forming today, while also looking at their interaction with older stars in the wider region."

The new image already shows a variety of star systems: Outside the Tarantula Nebula in the center, the NGC 2100 star cluster flanks it to the left while a remnant of supernova SN1987A (eso1032) glows to the right. Star-forming regions below comprise NGC 2080 (known as the "Ghost Head Nebula"), and the NGC 2083 star cluster.

Over the next five years, VISTA will be used for five more near-infrared surveys of the southern sky, ESO officials said in a statement.

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