The Carina Nebula — that bright, diffuse and luminous star formation in the southern skies — has been revealed in greater detail than ever before in new infrared photos from the European Southern Observatory (ESO).
Some 7,500 light years from Earth, and four times larger than the famous Orion Nebula, the Carina Nebula is less well known and documented because of its location far in the Southern Hemisphere.
But now, with the help of ESO’s infrared images, scientists say they are finding features they have never seen in the star formation. The above image is a mosaic made of hundreds of individual pictures from ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT).
The VLT, at the top of Mount Paranal in a desert in Chile, tracks and measures stars, black holes and planets. The “bone dry air” in the dry desert, the Guardian reports, is the “perfect place” to watch the skies.
In the lower left of the above image, the highly unstable binary star system Eta Carinae is pictured. Astronomers predict that the star will explode into a supernova one day and shine extremely brightly.
In a video sequence taken by ESO, the Carina Nebula is shown both in visible and infrared light. Many new features can be seen in sharp detail in the infrared image, dotting the celestial landscape of gas, dust and young stars:
The following photo shows the same contrast, with the infrared image on top:
The ESO also released a chart showing the location of the Carina Nebula within the constellation of Carina. The nebula is marked as a green square in a red circle at the left. Under good conditions, both the nebula and surrounding stars can be seen with the naked eye:
Here, a color composite made from exposures from the Digitized Sky Survey 2, an ongoing project to capture the night sky for databasing online, show the Carina Nebula in a final, spectacular way:
In other nebula news, scientists last week snapped a photo of a glowing nebula that looked just like a human face.