It’s already been quite a year for space porn, so sometimes I feel excessive by posting yet another new picture and saying “Look at this! It looks really cool!” But you know what, we’re hard-working people who deserve a break to marvel at the universe. So take in this incredible new image of the Tarantula Nebula, a high-energy region full of baby stars in a neighbouring galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud.
The Tarantula Nebula is the brightest region at the top of this image. It’s a thousand light-years across, a large chunk of the Large Magellanic Cloud. The Large Magellanic Cloud is a neighbour of our own Milky Way and is only 14,000 light-years across. For comparison, our own Milky Way is around 100,000 light-years across.
Here’s a video zooming in on the image you’re seeing:
Astronomers created this image using the VLT Survey Telescope at the ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile. Specifically, it relies on the 256-megapixel OmegaCAM, with a dozen filters to capture different wavelengths of light. This specific image used four filters, including one that only spots ionised hydrogen, according to a release from the European Southern Observatory.
As a reminder, pictures from space aren’t exactly what space would look like to our eyes. These telescopes collect the light coming from the galaxy, and then it’s up to astronomers to translate information about the light into a colourised picture. Usually the wavelengths of the collected light—what our eyes interpret as colour—don’t offer the clearest depiction of what’s going on. So scientists assign different colours to the wavelengths for a prettier approximation. More about that here.
Like nebulae in our own galaxy, the Tarantula Nebula is a region of dust and gas where stars are forming. It happens to be one of the most energetic such regions in our neighbourhood, according to the ESO release (which goes in to explain way more of the intricate details).
Keep on looking good, space. [ESO]