Side Note: The two images shown above are mere crop outs from ESA’s recent hit: The 9 Billion Pixel Image of 84 Million Stars. These two focus on the bright center of the image for the purpose of highlighting what a peak at 84,000,000 stars looks like.
Astronomers at the European Southern Observatory’s Paranal Observatory in Chile have released a breathtaking new photograph showing the central area of our Milky Way galaxy. The photograph shows a whopping 84 million stars in an image measuring 108500×81500, which contains nearly 9 billion pixels.
It’s actually a composite of thousands of individual photographs shot with the observatory’s VISTA survey telescope, the same camera that captured the amazing 55-hour exposure. Three different infrared filters were used to capture the different details present in the final image.
The VISTA’s camera is sensitive to infrared light, which allows its vision to pierce through much of the space dust that blocks the view of ordinary optical telescope/camera systems.
The Iris Nebula
Like delicate cosmic petals, these clouds of interstellar dust and gas have blossomed 1,300 light-years away in the fertile star fields of the constellation Cepheus. Sometimes called the Iris Nebula and dutifully cataloged as NGC 7023, this is not the only nebula in the sky to evoke the imagery of flowers. Still, this beautiful digital image shows off the Iris Nebula’s range of colors and symmetries in impressive detail. Within the Iris, dusty nebular material surrounds a massive, hot, young star in its formative years. Central filaments of cosmic dust glow with a reddish photo luminescence as some dust grains effectively convert the star’s invisible ultraviolet radiation to visible red light. Yet the dominant color of the nebula is blue, characteristic of dust grains reflecting starlight. Dark, obscuring clouds of dust and cold molecular gas are also present and can lead the eye to see other convoluted and fantastic shapes.
Image credit: Jean-Charles Cuillandre (CFHT), Hawaiian Starlight, CFHT
The Cave Nebula
The Cave Nebula, Sh2-155 or Caldwell 9, is a dim and very diffuse bright nebula within a larger nebula complex containing emission, reflection, and dark nebulosity. It is located in the constellation Cepheus. Visually it is a difficult object, but with adequate exposure, makes a striking image. The nebula gets its name from the dark lane at the eastern side abutting the brightest curve of emission nebulosity which gives the appearance of a deep cave when seen through a telescope visually.
Credit: Gordon Haynes
The Orion Complex
Adrift 1,500 light-years away in one of the night sky’s most recognizable constellations, the glowing Orion Nebula and the dark Horsehead Nebula are contrasting cosmic vistas. But even fainter filaments of glowing gas are easily traced throughout the region in this stunning composite image that includes exposures filtered to record emission from hydrogen atoms. The view reveals extensive nebulosities associated with the giant Orion Molecular Cloud complex, itself hundreds of light-years across.
A magnificent emission region, the Orion Nebula (aka M42) lies at the upper right of the picture. Immediately to its left are a cluster of prominent bluish reflection nebulae sometimes called the Running Man. The Horsehead nebula appears as a dark cloud, a small silhouette notched against the long red glow left of center. Alnitak is the easternmost star in Orion’s belt and the brightest star to the left of the Horsehead. Below Alnitak is the Flame Nebula, with clouds of bright emission and dramatic dark dust lanes. Completing the trio of Orion’s belt stars, bluish Alnilam and Mintaka form a line with Alnitak, extending to the upper left.