Telescope captures Lagoon Nebula!

Last Updated: Jan 06, 2011, 16:04 PM IST

Washington: The European Southern Observatory’s (ESO’s) UK-designed and built VISTA telescope has captured a new image of a star-forming region known as the Lagoon Nebula that lies about 4,000 to 5,000 light-years away.

The image demonstrates once again, the capability of the world’s largest survey telescope of producing infrared images that are unparalleled in the detail they reveal about the history and development of our galaxy.

Astronomers are using VISTA (Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy) at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile for a huge survey called VISTA Variables in the Via Lactea (VVV) to scour the Milky Way’s central regions for variable objects and map its structure in greater detail than ever before. The image was taken as part of that survey.

Astronomers have been able to capture fine details of the Lagoon Nebula in the constellation of Sagittarius, which are not visible without an infrared telescope because dust in the region associated with the star formation obscures them from view.

Because the VISTA telescope operates in the infrared spectrum, however, its longer wavelengths can pass through the dust relatively unscathed, revealing what lies behind it.

VISTA involves a consortium of institutions led by Queen Mary, University of London and was project-managed by STFC’s UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UKATC). The camera for the telescope was part-built at STFC’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire.

Professor Ian Robson, Head of STFC’s UK Astronomy Technology Centre in Edinburgh, said: “The Lagoon Nebula has always been one of the ‘picture-book’ images of astronomy, but seen in the optical rather than the infrared light of VISTA, and these new images are breaking new grounds and further demonstrating how the hard work of this project is paying off in spades.”

Professor Richard Holdaway, Director, RAL Space at STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory said; “We are breaking new ground all of the time with the VISTA telescope. Region by region we are building up a solid picture of how our galaxy formed.”