Skip to main content

Stunning nebula 15,000 light-years away imaged by VLT Survey Telescope

A gorgeous new image of a distant nebula has been captured by the European Southern Observatory (ESO)’s VLT Survey Telescope. It shows part of the Sh2-284 nebula, a rarely imaged but stunning cloud of dust and gas located a massive 15,000 light-years away from Earth.

This nebula is a busy region of star formation, known as a stellar nursery, where young stars are born from swirls of dust and gas. As this matter moves around it forms into small clumps, which gradually grow and gather more material until they have enough gravity to attract material to them, becoming the seed of a new star. As these bright young stars are born they illuminate the dust and gas around them, creating the glowing nebula effect.

The Sh2-284 nebula.
This spectacular picture of the Sh2-284 nebula has been captured in great detail by the VLT Survey Telescope at ESO’s Paranal Observatory. Sh2-284 is a star formation region, and at its center, there is a cluster of young stars, dubbed Dolidze 25. The radiation from this cluster is powerful enough to ionize the hydrogen gas in the nebula’s cloud. It is this ionization that produces its bright orange and red colors. ESO/VPHAS+ team. Acknowledgement: CASU

The newly born stars also sculpt the matter around them. “The winds from the central cluster of stars push away the gas and dust in the nebula, hollowing out its center,” ESO explains. “As the winds encounter denser pockets of material, these offer more resistance meaning that the areas around them are eroded away first. This creates several pillars that can be seen along the edges of Sh2-284 pointing at the center of the nebula, such as the one on the right-hand side of the frame. While these pillars might look small in the image, they are in fact several light-years wide and contain vast amounts of gas and dust out of which new stars form.”

The VLT Survey Telescope is a huge 2.6-meter telescope located in the Paranal Observatory in the Atacama Desert in Northern Chile. This location, at high altitude with very little rainfall and far from major sources of light pollution, is ideal for large ground-based telescopes. The VLT Survey Telescope is located next to the Very Large Telescope, and together the pair cover a range of wavelengths from ultraviolet to near-infrared. The Survey Telescope takes mostly wide-angle images and helps select specific targets which can be imaged in more detail by the VLT.

Editors' Recommendations

Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
Webb telescope captures Ring Nebula in gorgeous detail
The Ring Nebula captured by Webb’s IRCam (Near-Infrared Camera).

The James Webb Space Telescope has just served up a couple more sublime images, this time showing the Ring Nebula in astonishing detail.

First spotted in the 18th Century and located around 2,500 light-years from Earth, the Ring Nebula’s colorful main ring is made up of gas thrown off by a dying star at the center of the nebula.

Read more
James Webb telescope captures the gorgeous Ring Nebula in stunning detail
JWST/NIRcam composite image of the Ring Nebula. The images clearly show the main ring, surrounded by a faint halo and with many delicate structures. The interior of the ring is filled with hot gas. The star which ejected all this material is visible at the very centre. It is extremely hot, with a temperature in excess of 100,000 degrees. The nebula was ejected only about 4000 years ago. Technical details: The image was obtained with JWST's NIRCam instrument on August 4, 2022. Images in three different filters were combined to create this composite image: F212N (blue); F300M (green); and F335M (red).

A new image from the James Webb Space Telescope shows the stunning and distinctive Ring Nebula -- a gorgeous structure of dust and gas located in the constellation of Lyra. This nebula is a favorite among sky watchers as it faces toward Earth so we can see its beautiful structure, and because it is visible throughout the summer from the Northern Hemisphere. It is different from the Southern Ring nebula, which Webb has also imaged, but both are a type of object called a planetary nebula.

Located just 2,600 light-years away, the Ring Nebula is a structure of dust and gas that was first observed in the 1770s, when it was thought to be something like a planet. With advances in technology, astronomers realized it was not a planet, but rather a cloud of dust and gas, and thanks to highly detailed observations by space telescopes like Hubble and Webb, scientists have been able to see more of its complex structure. The nebula isn't a simple sphere or blob, but is rather a central, football-shaped structure surrounded by rings of different material.

Read more
This star shredded its companion to create a stunning double-lobed nebula
A billowing pair of nearly symmetrical loops of dust and gas mark the death throes of an ancient red-giant star, as captured by Gemini South, one half of the International Gemini Observatory, operated by NSF’s NOIRLab. The resulting structure, said to resemble an old style of English jug, is a rarely seen bipolar reflection nebula. Evidence suggests that this object formed by the interactions between the dying red giant and a now-shredded companion star. The image was obtained by NOIRLab’s Communication, Education & Engagement team as part of the NOIRLab Legacy Imaging Program.

Nebulae are some of the most beautiful structures to be found in space: vast clouds of dust and gas that are illuminated by light from nearby stars. These regions are often busy sites of star formation, as new stars are born from clumps of dust that collect more material due to gravity. Within the category of nebulae, there are different types such as emission nebulae, where the gases are ionized by radiation and glow brightly, or supernova remnants, which are the structures left behind after massive stars come to the end of their lives and explode.

A recent image captured by NOIRLab's Gemini South telescope shows a rare type of nebula called a bipolar reflection nebula. Known as the Toby Jug Nebula for its similar shape to a traditional English jug, nebula IC 2220 is 1,200 light-years away in the constellation of Carina, or the Keel.

Read more