Over 6,000 light-years from Earth, an open star cluster and its nebula cover a swathe of sky over 270 light-years across. It’s called the Running Chicken Nebula, and it’s more than just one object. The Running Chicken Nebula, also called IC 2944, also contains IC 2948, the brightest part of the Chicken, as well as several Bok Globules and smaller nebulae. The bright star Lambda Centauri is near the visual center of the Chicken but is actually much closer to Earth.Continue reading “You’ll Need all the Internet to Download the Full Resolution of this New Running Chicken Nebula Image”
This Saturday will mark 15 years that the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) first opened its eyes on the Universe, and ESO is celebrating its first-light anniversary with a beautiful and intriguing new image of the stellar nursery IC 2944, full of bright young stars and ink-black clouds of cold interstellar dust.
This is the clearest ground-based image yet of IC 2944, located 6,500 light-years away in the southern constellation Centaurus.
Emission nebulae like IC 2944 are composed mostly of hydrogen gas that glows in a distinctive shade of red, due to the intense radiation from the many brilliant newborn stars. Clearly revealed against this bright backdrop are mysterious dark clots of opaque dust, cold clouds known as Bok globules. They are named after Dutch-American astronomer Bart Bok, who first drew attention to them in the 1940s as possible sites of star formation. This particular set is nicknamed the Thackeray Globules.
Larger Bok globules in quieter locations often collapse to form new stars but the ones in this picture are under fierce bombardment from the ultraviolet radiation from nearby hot young stars. They are both being eroded away and also fragmenting, like lumps of butter dropped into a hot frying pan. It is likely that Thackeray’s Globules will be destroyed before they can collapse and form stars.
This new picture celebrates an important anniversary for the the VLT – it will be fifteen years since first light on the first of its four Unit Telescopes on May 25, 1998. Since then the four original giant telescopes have been joined by the four small Auxiliary Telescopes that form part of the VLT Interferometer (VLTI) – one of the most powerful and productive ground-based astronomical facilities in existence.
The selection of images below — one per year — gives a taste of the VLT’s scientific productivity since first light in 1998:
Read more on the ESO site here, and watch an ESOCast video below honoring the VLT’s fifteen-year milestone:
Happy Anniversary VLT!