Stunning image of stars forming in space released by astronomers

The photo was taken as a demonstration of new technology

Andrew Griffin
Wednesday 11 July 2018 10:39 BST
(ESO/K. Muzic)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Scientists have released a stunning image of stars forming deep in space.

The picture shows the usually hidden wonder of a star cluster known as RCW 38, which is usually shrouded in dust.

It allows astronomers to peer into that cluster and see the stars forming inside. The picture shows a cluster made up of hundreds of young, hot, massive stars and lies 5,500 light-years away.

Usually, scientists see something very different when they look towards this star cluster. Previous images are much emptier of stars because they are covered by dust and gas.

But by looking using infrared imaging, the scientists were able to see the vast cluster of stars that light up the gas and dust that surrounds them. The darker parts of the images are shown glow gently in dark shades of red and orange, and are parts where cooler gases flow through the region.

The image was taken by peering through that dust using the latest telescopes and imaging technology. It was taken using an infrared imager mounted on the European Space Observatory's Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile.

That imaging technology fired four laser beams into the night sky, which can be used as artificial reference stars. Using those, scientists are able to correct for the atmospheric turbulence that normally smudge such pictures, allowing this one to be much more sharp.

The picture was actually taken as part of a series of test images for the imaging technology, known as GRAAL and HAWK-I. They help ensure that the new instrument is working properly, and allow engineers to ensure it is making the most of its capabilities.

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