Some of the greatest discoveries about our universe have been made from right here on Earth. Our most recent insight comes from the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy.
An Interstellar Nursery in Our Neighborhood
The VISTA telescope, located in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile, recently captured images of the Carina Nebula. The region of gas and dust is a stellar nursery of great interest to astronomers that is 300 light years across. The nebula is considered one of the largest regions of star formation in the Milky Way galaxy.
In a press release, the ESO said, “The massive stars in the interior of this cosmic bubble emit intense radiation that causes the surrounding gas to glow. By contrast, other regions of the nebula contain dark pillars of dust cloaking newborn stars.”
Life and Death in One Picture
What sets the Carina Nebula apart from others is the ability to view the lifespan of stars in one image. The area regularly experiences stellar formation within light-years of supernovae. This keeps gas in the region churning so new star systems form on a regular basis.
The newest image from the VISTA telescope gives scientists an infrared view of the nebula. Most notable is the Eta Carinae system. First described in the 17th century, the binary stars have dimmed considerably over the years. It is expected to go supernova in the near future. By contrast, the younger Keyhole Nebula has given rise to countless stars and is heavily impacted by its aging neighbor.
For the Southern Hemisphere Only
Alas, Northern viewers are not privy to the spectacle. The Carina Nebula lies in the southern hemisphere’s night sky. To adequately view the nebula, astronomers must set up in Australia and South America.
But this doesn’t mean northerners can’t join in the fun. The Carina constellation and its nebulae can be seen from parts of the southern US during the summer months. Just make sure to visit Cape Canaveral when you’re on that Florida trip.