The European Southern Observatory’s Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) at the Paranal Observatory in Chile has captured a new image of the Lobster Nebula. NGC 6357, which is approximately 8000 light-years away in the constellation of Scorpius, is a celestial landscape filled with vast clouds of gas and tendrils of dust surrounding hot young stars.
The image, which uses infrared data from ESO’s VISTA, is just a small part of a massive survey called VISTA Variable in the Via Lactea (VVV) that is taking photos of the central parts of the Galaxy. The new picture shows a much different view to that seen in visible-light images. Infrared radiation, for example, brushes the cosmic dust off of NGC 6357.
NGC 6357 is home to a number of hot young stars, including Pismis 24-1. This star was once thought to be the most massive star known, but astronomers discovered that Pismis 24-1 was actually comprised of three large bright stars, each with a mass less than 100 times that of our Sun. Pismis is by far the brightest object in the Pismis 24 star cluster. Pismis 24-1 and the other stars in the Pismis 24 star cluster are all believed to have formed at the same time within the Lobster Nebula.
Astronomers note that the ESO’s VISTA is the biggest and most powerful survey telescope ever constructed, and is designed for the purpose of surveying the sky in infrared light. The VVV survey is examining the central parts of the Galaxy to develop a large dataset that will help astronomers learn more about the Milky Way.
The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and the ESO’s Very Large Telescope have also captured images of the Lobster Nebula. These telescopes have generated visible-light images of various parts of this celestial landscape.
Data from VISTA has already helped create a stunning 9-gigapixel picture of 84 million stars at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. This is the largest survey ever of the stars in our galaxy’s center, according to Space.com. The website also notes that the image would measure 30 feet long by 23 feet tall if printed with the resolution of a normal book.