To mark the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Very Large Telescope’s (VLT) First Light, the European Southern Observatory (ESO) has released two stunning images of nebula located towards the Carina constellation.
Latest view of Eta Carinae from the VLT. The image clearly shows a bipolar structure as well as jets coming out from the central star. The central region resembles the shape of a little man. Image: ESO.
The first image (above), Eta Carinae, has been given the nickname of ‘Little Man’ and surrounds a star doomed to explode within the next 100,000 years. Eta Carinae was one of the first objects to be imaged with ESO’s VLT, and at that time, the image obtained with a test camera already showed the capability potential of the telescope. New images reveal even more detail, with a resolution factor 6-7 times better. The new image clearly shows a bipolar structure as well as the fine structure of jets coming out from the central star.
The second image (below) features a much larger nebula, NGC 3576, whose internal turmoil is created by a cluster of young massive stars. It occupies a gigantic region of glowing gas where stars are currently forming. The intense radiation and winds from the massive stars are shredding the clouds from which they form, creating the dramatic scenery captured in the latest image.
Located 9,000 light years away, NGC 3576 is a gigantic region of glowing gas about 100 light years across. The black area in the middle-right part of the image is dark because of the very dense, opaque clouds of gas and dust. Image: ESO.
Sitting atop the 2,600 metre high Paranal Mountain in the Chilean Atacama Desert, the VLT is the most advanced telescope in the world, comprising a unique suite of four 8.2-metre telescopes equipped with 13 state of the art instruments and four 1.8 moveable Auxiliary Telescopes. The telescopes can work individually, and they can also be linked together in groups of two or three to form a giant interferometer (VLTI), allowing astronomers to see details corresponding to those from a much larger telescope.
"The Very Large Telescope array is a flagship facility for astronomy, a perfect science machine of which Europe can be very proud," says Tim de Zeeuw, ESO's Director General. "We have built the most advanced ground-based optical observatory in the world, thanks to the combination of a long-term adequately-funded instrument and technology development plan with an approach where most of the instruments were built in collaboration with institutions in the member states, with in-kind contributions in labour compensated by guaranteed observing time."
The VLT and VLTI have contributed to all areas of astronomy, including the nature of dark matter and dark energy; the extreme physics of gamma-ray bursts and supernovae; the formation, structure and evolution of galaxies; the properties of exoplanets, Solar System objects, star clusters and stellar populations, the interstellar and intergalactic medium, and of super-massive black holes in galactic nuclei; and the formation of stars and planets. Since the start of the science operations in April 1999, the VLT has lead the publication of over 2,200 refereed papers, an average of one paper published every single working day!
The VLT will continue to increase in power over the next decade with the addition of many second and third generation instruments. Clearly, the VLT's story has only just begun.