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Astronomers glimpsed the stellar nursery in a new light, thanks to Astronomy’s Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope in Chile.
The VISTA telescope, located at the European Southern Observatory’s Paranal Observatory in Antofagasta, Chile, observed the Sh2-54 nebula in infrared light, which is not visible to the human eye.
While interstellar dust absorbs visible light, which is what we can see, infrared light can penetrate the dense clouds of dust in space to reveal details not seen before.
Infrared images of nebulae are helping astronomers learn more about how stars form. The new image revealed a wealth of stars behind the nebula’s orange glow.
Compare the starlight-filled infrared image to the visible-light image of the Sh2-54 nebula using the slider below.
Multiple nebulae, or clouds of gas and dust that fuel star formation, are located at the tail end of the constellation Serpent – so named because of its resemblance to a serpent. Starbirth hotspots include the Eagle, Omega, and Sh2-54 nebulae.
Astronomers focused on the Sh2-54 nebula around it 6,000 light years from Earth. The “Sh” in the cosmic body’s name refers to astronomer Stewart Sharpless, who was responsible for cataloging more than 300 nebulae in the 1950s.
The image was taken with the highly sensitive 67 million pixel camera on the VISTA telescope as part of the VISTA Variables in Via Láctea eXtended survey.
The project repeatedly observes large regions of the Milky Way in infrared light to unlock the mysteries of stellar evolution.
Nebulae and star nurseries were also part of the focus of the James Webb Space Telescope, which began scientific observations of the universe in July 2022.
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