The VLT Survey Telescope (VST) at ESO's Paranal Observatory in Chile captured this incredibly detailed observation of the Lagoon Nebula, 5,000 light-years away in the constellation Sagittarius.
NASA, ESA and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team
In a discovery announced on Sept. 4, 2013, a population of planetary nebulae near the galactic core appear to be, weirdly, preferentially aligned to the Milky Way's galactic plain. The nebulae, known as "bipolar" (or "butterfly") planetary nebulae are completely non-interacting and of various ages, suggesting some external force is shaping their orientation. It's thought that a powerful magnetic field may be the culprit.
The researchers used observations from the Hubble Space Telescope and ESO's New Technology Telescope, so here are a small selection of some stunning examples of bipolar planetary nebulae as seen through the eye of Hubble. Shown here is the stunning NGC 6302 -- an intricate example of a bipolar planetary nebula's butterfly wings.
Bruce Balick (University of Washington), Vincent Icke (Leiden University, The Netherlands), Garrelt Mellema (Stockholm University), and NASA/ESA
Hubble 5: A classically-shaped bipolar (or 'butterfly') planetary nebula.
ESA/Hubble & NASA
NGC 6881: A binary star possibly shapes this wonderfully symmetrical nebula.
NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
NGC 5189: A dramatic view of the ribbons of bright material being ejected from a planetary nebula.
The VLT Survey Telescope (VST), located at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) high in the Atacama Desert in Chile, has captured a jaw-dropping view of the Lagoon Nebula -- a star-forming interstellar cloud incubating baby stars enshrouded in knots of gas and dust.
Although this new observation has some incredible detail, it may be surprising to learn that the Lagoon Nebula wasn't actually the focus of the VST's attention; the nebula just happened to be in shot as the powerful observatory surveyed the sky. This is just a sneak peek of the "treasure trove" the 2.6 meter VST telescope is about to unleash on the world.
The Lagoon Nebula, also known as Messier 8, is a giant cloud some 100 light-years wide located approximately 5,000 light-years away in the constellation Sagittarius. This is a fascinating object in itself and the ESO has created a fully 'zoomable' version of the object for our viewing pleasure.
This image is a part of the ongoing VPHAS+, a survey of a huge swathe of the Milky Way. Capturing celestial objects in visible light, VPHAS+ is being complemented by other surveys, including six infrared surveys being carried out by the VISTA survey telescope.
According to an ESO press release, these surveys are hoping to answer some of the biggest questions in modern astronomy, including "the nature of dark energy, searching for brilliant quasars in the early Universe, probing the structure of the Milky Way and looking for unusual and hidden objects, studying the neighbouring Magellanic Clouds in great detail, and many other topics." Often, hidden gems can be found in grand survey projects such as these, often throwing up answers and even more questions.
Although these surveys are still underway, these preliminary observations are opening our eyes to the complex and beautiful nature of our Universe, enchanting us and puzzling us in equal measure.