eso0936-en-au — Photo Release

The Trilogy is Complete

GigaGalaxy Zoom Phase 3

28 September 2009

The third image of ESO’s GigaGalaxy Zoom project has just been released online, completing this eye-opening dive into our galactic home in outstanding fashion. The latest image follows on from views, released over the last two weeks, of the sky as seen with the unaided eye and through an amateur telescope. This third instalment provides another breathtaking vista of an astronomical object, this time a 370-million-pixel view of the Lagoon Nebula of the quality and depth needed by professional astronomers in their quest to understand our Universe.

The newly released image extends across a field of view of more than one and a half square degree — an area eight times larger than that of the full Moon — and was obtained with the Wide Field Imager attached to the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile. This 67-million-pixel camera has already created several of ESO’s iconic pictures.

The intriguing object depicted here — the Lagoon Nebula — is located four to five thousand light-years away towards the constellation of Sagittarius (the Archer). The nebula is a giant interstellar cloud, 100 light-years across, where stars are forming. The scattered dark patches seen all over the nebula are huge clouds of gas and dust that are collapsing under their own weight and which will soon give birth to clusters of young, glowing stars. Some of the smallest clouds are known as “globules” and the most prominent ones have been catalogued by the astronomer Edward Emerson Barnard.

The Lagoon Nebula hosts the young open stellar cluster known as NGC 6530. This is home for 50 to 100 stars and twinkles in the lower left portion of the nebula. Observations suggest that the cluster is slightly in front of the nebula itself, though still enshrouded by dust, as revealed by reddening of the starlight, an effect that occurs when small dust particles scatter light.

The name of the Lagoon Nebula derives from the wide lagoon-shaped dark lane located in the middle of the nebula that divides it into two glowing sections.

This gorgeous starscape is the last in the series of three huge images featured in the GigaGalaxy Zoom project, launched by ESO as part of the International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA2009). Through three giant images, the GigaGalaxy Zoom project reveals the full sky as it appears with the unaided eye from one of the darkest deserts on Earth, then zooms in on a rich region of the Milky Way using an amateur telescope, and finally uses the power of a professional telescope to reveal the details of a famous nebula. In this way, the project links the sky we can all see with the deep, “hidden” cosmos that astronomers study on a daily basis. The wonderful quality of the images is a testament to the splendour of the night sky at ESO’s sites in Chile, which are the most productive astronomical observatories in the world.

The GigaGalaxy Zoom project’s dedicated website has proved very successful, drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors from all around the world,” says project coordinator Henri Boffin. “With the trilogy now complete, viewers will be able to explore a magnificently detailed cosmic environment on many different scales and take a breathtaking dive into our Milky Way.

More information

As part of the IYA2009, ESO is participating in several remarkable outreach activities, in line with its world-leading rank in the field of astronomy. ESO is hosting the IYA2009 Secretariat for the International Astronomical Union, which coordinates the Year globally. ESO is one of the Organisational Associates of IYA2009, and was also closely involved in the resolution submitted to the United Nations (UN) by Italy, which led to the UN’s 62nd General Assembly proclaiming 2009 the International Year of Astronomy. In addition to a wide array of activities planned both at the local and international level, ESO is leading four of the thirteen global Cornerstone Projects.

ESO, the European Southern Observatory, is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive astronomical observatory. It is supported by 14 countries: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope, the world’s most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory. ESO is the European partner of a revolutionary astronomical telescope ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. ESO is currently planning a 42-metre European Extremely Large optical/near-infrared Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.

The third image of the GigaGalaxy Zoom project was taken with the Wide Field Imager (WFI) attached to the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at the ESO La Silla Observatory. In order to optimise telescope time, the images were obtained by ESO staff astronomers, who select the most favourable observations to be made at any given time, taking into account the visibility of the objects and the sky conditions. The La Silla Observatory, 600 km north of Santiago de Chile and at an altitude of 2400 metres, has been an ESO stronghold since the 1960s. Here, ESO operates several of the most productive 2–4-metre-class telescopes in the world.

Links

Contacts

Henri Boffin
ESO
Garching, Germany
Tel: +49 89 3200 6222
Email: hboffin@eso.org

Olivier Hainaut
ESO
Garching, Germany
Tel: +49 89 3200 675
Email: ohainaut@eso.org

This is a translation of ESO Press Release eso0936.

About the Release

Release No.:eso0936-en-au
Legacy ID:PR 36/09
Facility:MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope

Images

370-million-pixel starscape of the Lagoon Nebula
370-million-pixel starscape of the Lagoon Nebula
The GigaGalaxy Zoom composite
The GigaGalaxy Zoom composite

Videos

Diving into the Lagoon Nebula
Diving into the Lagoon Nebula
Pan over the Lagoon Nebula
Pan over the Lagoon Nebula
ESOcast 10: GigaGalaxy Zoom: The Sky, from the Eye to the Telescope
ESOcast 10: GigaGalaxy Zoom: The Sky, from the Eye to the Telescope

Also see our