ESO’s VLT Captures Unlikely Pair In Large Magellanic Cloud
August 7, 2013

ESO’s VLT Captures Unlikely Pair In Large Magellanic Cloud

[ Watch the Video: ESO Captures Pair of Mysterious Glowing Gas Clouds ]

Brett Smith for – Your Universe Online

A newly released image from the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (VLT) has exposed new details about the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a galactic neighbor of the Milky Way.

The LMC was discovered by its namesake, Ferdinand Magellan, when the explorer's famous trip to circumnavigate the globe took him through the southern hemisphere in 1519. While Magellan’s death in the Philippines cut his trip short, the Portuguese explorer's crew reported the existence of the cloud-like oddity found in the sky near the southern constellation Dorado.

Today, we know that the LMC is an irregularly shaped galaxy that could be a satellite of our own galaxy, the Milky Way, and contains several active star-forming regions, such as the Tarantula Nebula. The new image from the VLT focused exclusively on one such stellar nursery and a nearby newborn star.

The striking image shows the star-forming region, NGC 2014, glowing red while the nearby, ultra hot star called NGC 2020 is ensconced in a bluish cloud. The reddish glow of NGC 2014 is caused by its surrounding cloud of hydrogen gas. Hot, young stars within the region strip electrons away from the mass of hydrogen, ionizing it and making it glow red. The blue glow of NGC 2020 is caused by a similar process -- the ionizing of oxygen instead of hydrogen.

In addition to stripping electrons away from oxygen atoms, strong radiation surrounding NGC 2020 is also creating powerful stellar winds that force the gas around them to spread out and stream away. The result is a bubble-like configuration around the young star.

Sitting 163,000 light years from Earth, the LMC is relatively close and an attractive target for astronomers. The proximity allows scientists to study the odd-shaped galaxy in greater detail than other, more distant galaxies. The LMC is also a relatively small galaxy, estimated to be one-tenth the mass of the Milky Way. It is referred to as an irregular dwarf galaxy, its shape most likely caused by interactions with the Milky Way and another nearby galaxy -- the Small Magellanic Cloud.

[ Watch the Video: Panoramic Video Captured By ESO’s Very Large Telescope ]

Scientists have said that the LMC has one of the best vantage points of our own galaxy. The Milky Way would appear twice as bright as the LMC does in our own sky and it would cover 36 percent of the total sky, which is equivalent to about 70 full moons. The LMC's perspective on the Milky Way would also be free from interstellar dust, making it a better vantage point than our own for studying the much larger galaxy. The Small Magellanic Cloud would appear approximately 0.6 times brighter from the LMC.

The LMC is also cited by the ESO as one of the main reasons for the initial construction of telescopes in the southern hemisphere and the subsequent creation of their organization. The VLT is considered to be the European agency's "flagship" facility with an array of telescopes capable of seeing 25 times finer details than with individual telescopes.

"The VLT has made an undisputed impact on observational astronomy," a statement on the ESO’s website said. "It is the most productive individual ground-based facility, and results from the VLT have led to the publication of an average of more than one peer-reviewed scientific paper per day."