A new 2bn-pixel image from the ESO, one of its largest ever released, shows two distant nebulas – Cat’s Paw and Lobster – in all their explosive glory.
Situated in the Scorpius constellation, the Cat’s Paw Nebula (NGC 6334) and Lobster Nebula (NGC 6357) rest 5,500 and 8,000 light years from Earth respectively.
Though rarely have they looked as good as in this image, a massive 2bn-pixel attempt from the ESO’s Very Large Telescope Survey.
The duo were first spotted in 1837, when John Herschel, a British scientist, was on an expedition to the Cape of Good Hope – though it took decades to fully identify what turned out to be the Cat’s Paw and the Lobster.
The three toe pads visible to modern telescopes, as well as the claw-like regions in the nearby Lobster Nebula, are actually regions of gas — predominantly hydrogen — energised by the light of brilliant newborn stars.
The stars within these nebulas are 10 times the mass of our sun, radiating intense ultraviolet light. The glow visible to us is from the ultraviolet light interacting with hydrogen atoms.
According to the ESO, despite the cutting-edge instruments used to observe these phenomena, the dust in these nebulas is so thick that much of their content remains hidden to us.
Just before Christmas, NASA’s Hubble Telescope delivered images of nebulas and a spiral galaxy in incredible detail.
The pair, combining to make up NGC 248 in the southern constellation Tucana, are housed 200,000 light years away in a dwarf galaxy called the Small Magellanic Cloud, and are lit up red.
NGC 248 is of interest to scientists because it’s in a galaxy that has as little as 10pc of the amount of heavy elements that our Milky Way enjoys, making it a curious area to investigate.
While these are investigated, thousands of light years from Earth, a nearer mission recently presented incredible images of Saturn’s mysterious rings.
The Cassini spacecraft is currently in the middle of one of NASA’s most interesting missions: diving through Saturn’s many rings on 20 occasions to measure their make-up.
When this ends in April, Cassini will then dive below the rings, taking 22 trips between them and the planet’s surface, providing scientists with the best-ever look at what the planet’s surface is really like.
It will then crash into Saturn, providing one final tranche of scientific readings. This will hopefully build a portfolio of information, allowing NASA researchers to fully understand the planet’s atmosphere.
With the first stage well underway, images of Saturn’s dazzling rings of icy debris are emerging, and January’s haul is particularly fascinating.