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Nebula of Many Names Revealed in Beautiful New Image

This image of the Omega Nebula (Messier 17), captured by ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT), is one of the sharpest of this object ever taken from the ground. It shows the dusty, rosy central parts of the famous star-forming region in fine detail. Credit: ESO

The Omega Nebula goes by many names, depending on who observed it when and what they thought they saw. So, what do you see in this new image from the Very Large Telescope? This is one of the sharpest images of this nebula ever taken from the ground, and it reveals incredible detail in the smoky-pink gas clouds and dark dust, highlighted with brilliant newborn stars.

Astronomers from the European Southern Observatory said the “seeing” — a term astronomers use to measure the distorting effects of Earth’s atmosphere — on the night of the observations this image was taken was very good, thus this incredibly vivid image.

A common measure for seeing is the apparent diameter of a star when seen through a telescope. In this case, the measure of seeing was an extremely favorable 0.45 arcseconds, meaning little blurring and twinkling occurred while the VLT stared at this nebula.

The other names given to the Omega Nebula include the Swan Nebula, the Horseshoe Nebula and the Lobster Nebula. It also has the official catalog names of Messier 17 (M17) and NGC 6618. The nebula is located about 6,500 light-years away in the constellation of Sagittarius. It is a popular target of astronomers, and is one of the youngest and most active stellar nurseries for massive stars in the Milky Way.

The gas and dust visible in the Omega Nebula provides the raw materials for creating the next generation of stars. The newborn stars shine brightly in blue-white light, illuminating the entire nebula. , The gas appears in pink hues, as the hydrogen gas glows from the intense ultraviolet rays from the hot young stars.

The image was taken with the FORS (FOcal Reducer and Spectrograph) instrument on Antu, one of the four Unit Telescopes of the VLT.

Source: ESO

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Anonymous January 4, 2012, 3:28 PM

    Looks like I have a new desktop background :) One of the most beautiful astronomy images I’ve seen… second only to this one in my opinion!

  • Luke Pereira January 4, 2012, 5:24 PM

    im sure they can’t see it in the color on that picture? Dont they add color to the images to show the gases? Im an avid amateur astronomer and usually saw the galaxies in black and white unless u camera capture with a ccd etc..

    • magnus.nyborg January 4, 2012, 6:19 PM

      Very few deepsky objects show color visually in amatue sized telescopes, but a few does.

      M42 (Orion Nebulae) sports a grenish hue on good nights in a 6″ and pretty standar while in a 12″.

      NGC 6543 (Cat’s Eye – Planetary Nebula) comes out in a green-blue hue in a 12″.

      You may also try some other brighter planetary nebula with small angular sizes, the smaller they are the higher the surface brightness is and this is the most limiting factor to seeing color.

    • Scott January 7, 2012, 2:56 PM

      As Magnus noted, there is certainly color there. There reason why you see objects as black and white, it would be more correct to say shades of grey, is because of the low surface brightness of these objects. they simply don’t produce enough light to active the cones in your eye, thus allowing you to see color.

      Most photos like this are take using a monochrome sensor (CCD, CMOS, etc) through a series of filters. Those individual images are then mapped into the color spectrum providing us with a nice color image like the one you see here.

  • Anonymous January 4, 2012, 6:07 PM

    great article

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