ESO Lagoon Nebula Images
January 22, 2014

ESO Offers Sneak Peek Of Lagoon Nebula Images

[ Watch The Video: Zooming In On The Lagoon Nebula ]

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

The European Space Observatory (ESO) is currently in the midst of conducting eleven public surveys of the sky using telescopes at its facility in Chile, and scientists have just released images from the project of the Lagoon Nebula.

Located approximately 5,000 light years from Earth in the constellation of Sagittarius, the Lagoon Nebula is a giant cloud 100 light-years across that is creating intensely bright young stars, and already hosts many young stellar clusters.

The newly released 16,000-pixel-wide image was captured using the ESO’s VLT Survey Telescope (VST), one of two telescopes specifically dedicated to the ongoing surveys at ESO's Paranal Observatory in northern Chile.

According to the ESO, the VST was not directly investigating the Lagoon Nebula. The gas cloud was simply included as part of one survey called VPHAS+ that is focused on covering a much larger section of the Milky Way. VPHAS+ is one of three imaging surveys the VST is conducting using visible light. These surveys are being complemented by six infrared surveys using the VISTA survey telescope.

The surveys are being conducted with the purpose of addressing many big unanswered questions in modern astronomy. These questions involve the nature of dark energy, brilliant quasars in the early Universe, the structure of the Milky Way, the neighboring Magellanic Clouds and many other topics. The ESO scientists said they also expect to find unexpected surprises that are often crucial for the advancement of astronomical research.

In addition to the nine imaging surveys being conducted with VISTA and the VST, there are also two additional surveys being undertaken with other ESO telescopes. The Gaia-ESO Survey is using the Very Large Telescope at the Chilean site of Paranal to record the properties of over 100,000 stars in the Milky Way, and another survey is following up on transient objects such as supernovae.

Some of these surveys started back in 2010 and some much more recently, and data from all of these surveys are now being made public and are accessible via ESO's online archive.

According to the ESO, many of these surveys are already allowing for new discoveries, such as new star clusters found in the VVV survey, the best map to date of the middle parts of our galaxy, a deep view of the infrared sky and some of the most distant quasars discovered yet.

The agency said these surveys are expected to continue for many years and their legacy value is expected to stretch many years into the future.

The ESO is supported by 15 countries – including Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. The international agency is focused on the design, creation and operation of powerful ground-based observatories that allow for the collection of astronomical data.

The ESO operates three sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. The ESO is also a partner in the operation of the revolutionary astronomical telescope ALMA. The organization said it currently planning a 128-foot European Extremely Large optical/near-infrared Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become “the world's biggest eye on the sky."