And by cutting through the gas and dust captured in visible light photos, the new infrared images has revealed previously unknown stars.
The Trifid Nebula gets its nickname from the dense interstellar cloud that cuts through it, which looks like a cosmic road cutting the cluster into three sections. But in infrared, these dark lines are missing, as are the glowing pink and blue lobes they cut through. The blue burn of hot young stars, the pink spray of hydrogen clouds, and the blur of light-absorbing cosmic dust are all overlooked.
But because those light-absorbing clouds let infrared light (which has a longer wavelength than visible light) right through, we get to see what's behind all the beautiful muck.
That's exactly what scientists wanted to do when they pointed VISTA thereabouts: The Trifid Nebula is only about 5,200 light-years away, but it sits in the general direction of the center of the galaxy. Researchers are trying to get a closer look at the middle of the Milky Way (which is 27,000 light years away) and beyond.
The new image reveals two distant stars called Cepheid variables. These bright stars are unstable, and they brighten and fade over time. The pair of stars, which are about 37,000 light years away, were described in a paper published Wednesday in Astrophysical Journal Letters.