Lobster Nebula Revealed in New Infrared Image with VISTA Telescope

First Posted: Feb 20, 2013 10:52 AM EST

Located about 8,000 light-years away from Earth is the Lobster Nebula, officially known as NGC 6357. The region is filled with massive clouds of gas and tendrils of dark dust. Yet these clouds aren't merely aesthetic; they're actually forming stars, including massively heated stars which glow a brilliant blue-white in visible light.

Now, ESO's Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) telescope has captured a new image of this nebula. Using infrared data, the telescope was able to create an image that's spectacular to behold.

The image itself, though, is merely a small part of a huge survey currently taking place. Called VISTA Variables in the Via Lactea (VVV), the survey is imaging the central parts of the Milky Way Galaxy. This new picture in particular presents a drastically different view to those seen in visible-light images since infrared radiation can penetrate the dust that usually shrouds the nebula.

The Lobster Nebula has been viewed before. In particular, it's been observed by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope as well as ESO's Very Large Telescopes. These instruments, though, only produced visible-light images of the area. In contrast, the infrared image reduces the large plumes of red-hued material that are usually highly visible in the visible light images. In addition, the infrared image shows tendrils of purple gas that stretch out from the nebula in different areas.

In fact, the new survey is allowing researchers to examine the universe as never before. Since VISTA is the largest and most powerful survey telescope ever built, researchers are getting a new look at "landmarks" in our galaxy. In addition to the Lobster Nebula, the survey is scanning the central bulge and some of the plane of our galaxy in order to create a huge dataset that will help scientists learn more about the origin, early life, and structure of the Milky Way.

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