In this new infrared picture, a multitude of stars are seen behind the weak orange glow of the Sh2-54 nebula. Positioned in the constellation Serpens, this spectacular stellar nursery continues to be captured in all its complex detail using the Infrared and visible Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) based at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile.
Whenever the ancients looked up in the evening skies they noticed arbitrary patterns in the stars. The Greeks, for example, named one of those “constellations” Serpens, due to the resemblance of its to a snake. What they would not have been equipped to see is the fact that in the tail end of this particular constellation there’s many stunning astronomical objects. These are the Eagle, the Omega and also the Sh2 54 nebulae; the final of these is discovered, in a brand new light, in this stunning infrared image.
Nebulae are huge clouds of dust and gas from which stars are born. Telescopes have permitted astronomers to determine and evaluate these quite faint objects in detail that is exquisite. The nebula shown here, located approximately 6000 light years away, is formally known as Sh2 54; the “Sh” describes the US astronomer Steward Sharpless, who cataloged greater than 300 nebulae in the 1950s.
While the technology utilized to examine the Universe advances, so too does the understanding of ours of these exceptional nurseries. One of those advances is the capability to look outside of the light which may be detected by the eyes of ours, for example infrared light. Just like the snake, the namesake of the nebula, developed the capability to sense infrared light to better comprehend the environment of its, so too have we improved infrared instruments explore the Universe.
Whilst light that is visible is readily taken in by clouds of dust in nebulae, infrared light is able to pass from the heavy layers of dust nearly unimpeded. The picture here thus reveals many stars concealed behind the veils of dust. This’s specially helpful as it enables researchers to learn what goes on in stellar nurseries in much greater detail, and therefore learn about just how stars form.
This particular image was caught in infrared light working with the very sensitive 67-million-pixel camera on ESO’s VISTA telescope at Paranal Observatory in Chile. It was considered together with the VVVX survey – the VISTA Variables in the Via Láctea extended survey. This’s a multi year project which has frequently found a big part of the Milky Way at infrared wavelengths, offering crucial information to understand stellar evolution.