Interstellar dust that blocks astronomers' view of space is no match for the European Southern Observatory's "dustbuster" telescope, which just revealed this dazzling view of several stars that have hidden in the cosmic dust until now.
The Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA), located at ESO's Cerro Paranal Observatory in Chile, took this new image of this cloud of gas and dust, called Messier 78 (M78), which resides 1,600 light-years from Earth. Astronomers call M78 a reflection nebula, because it reflects the light from nearby stars. ESO scientists created this video of the stunning nebula to showcase their research.
VISTA is specially designed for this sort of dust-busting work. It sees light in near-infrared wavelengths, which passes straight through the dust. Other wavelengths of light are either blocked or absorbed by interstellar gas and dust.
In visible light, M78 looks like a bright, glowing cloud with a few stars scattered throughout. But VISTA's near-infrared observations reveal countless other stars speckled in, around and beyond the nebula.
Stars in the new photos from VISTA show hot, young stars that glow with bright blue light, as well as red jets spewing from brand new stars as they form. M78 is a well-known star-forming region. Its cold, dense and dusty clouds make it a "prime location" for new stars to form, according to ESO officials.
Since its first observations in 2009, ESO's VISTA telescope has discovered countless objects in space that were once hidden by cosmic dust, including several star clusters in the Milky Way.