miércoles, 8 de julio de 2009

The astonishing Omega Nebula - the star-making machine of the Milky Way


This image of the Omega Nebula (Messier 17) , was captured by the ESO New Technology Telescope at the La Silla Observatory, Chile.


A stunning image of the Omega Nebula has been captured by the European Southern Observatory.

In the vast stellar nursery, infant stars both illuminate and sculpt a pastel fantasy of dust and gas.

The nebula is located about 5,500 light-years away towards the constellation of Sagittarius, also known as the Archer.

The ethereal cloud is about 15 light-years across and has recently spawned a cluster of massive, hot stars. The intense light and strong winds from these hulking infants have carved remarkable structures in the gas and dust.

The newly released image was captured by a multi-purpose instrument attached to the ESO New Technology Telescope at La Silla, Chile. It shows the central region of the nebula in exquisite detail.

The palette of colour shades are created by different gases (mostly hydrogen, but also oxygen, nitrogen and sulphur) that are glowing under the fierce ultraviolet light radiated by the hot young stars.

At the left of the image a huge and strangely box-shaped cloud of dust has covered the glowing gas. The dust comes from the remains of massive hot stars that have ended their brief lives and ejected material back into space.

When seen through a small telescope the nebula has a shape that reminds some observers of the final letter of the Greek alphabet, omega, while others see a swan with its distinctive long, curved neck. Other evocative nicknames include the Horseshoe and the Lobster Nebula.

The Omega Nebula resembles the last letter of the Greek alphabet. It has also be nicknamed 'swan' and 'crab'


Swiss astronomer Jean-Philippe Loys de Chéseaux discovered the nebula around 1745. The French comet hunter Charles Messier independently rediscovered it about twenty years later and included it as number 17 in his famous catalogue.

Early observers were unsure whether this curiosity was really a cloud of gas or a remote cluster of stars too faint to be resolved.

In 1866, William Huggins settled the debate when he confirmed the Omega Nebula to be a cloud of glowing gas, through the use of a new instrument, the astronomical spectrograph.

In recent years, astronomers have discovered that the Omega Nebula is one of the youngest and most massive star-forming regions in the Milky Way.

Active star-birth started a few million years ago and continues through today. The brightly shining gas shown in this picture is just a blister erupting from the side of a much larger dark cloud of molecular gas.

The ESO is the largest intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe, with 14 supporting countries including the UK.


Fuente: Daily Mail