“Now the circle is complete. When I left you, I was but the learner, and now…” Oh, sorry, different triology. The third image of ESO’s GigaGalaxy Zoom project has just been released online, completing this eye-opening dive into a galaxy not so far away; our own Milky Way. This third installment provides another breathtaking vista of an astronomical object, this time a 370-million-pixel view of the Lagoon Nebula with the quality and depth needed by professional astronomers in their quest to understand our Universe.
The newly released image extends across a field of view of more than one and a half square degree — an area eight times larger than that of the full Moon — and was obtained with the Wide Field Imager attached to the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile. This 67-million-pixel camera has already created several of ESO’s iconic pictures.
The intriguing object depicted here — the Lagoon Nebula — is located four to five thousand light-years away towards the constellation of Sagittarius (the Archer). The nebula is a giant interstellar cloud, 100 light-years across, where stars are forming. The scattered dark patches seen all over the nebula are huge clouds of gas and dust that are collapsing under their own weight and which will soon give birth to clusters of young, glowing stars.
The three huge images featured in the GigaGalaxy Zoom projec, launched by ESO as part of the International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA2009), reveals the full sky as it appears with the unaided eye from one of the darkest deserts on Earth, then zooms in on a rich region of the Milky Way using an amateur telescope, and finally uses the power of a professional telescope to reveal the details of a famous nebula. In this way, the project links the sky we can all see with the deep, “hidden” cosmos that astronomers study on a daily basis. The wonderful quality of the images is a testament to the splendor of the night sky at ESO’s sites in Chile, which are the most productive astronomical observatories in the world.
Click here for the Giga Galaxy Zoom site and start zooming in on our home galaxy!