Europe’s state-of-the-art Very Large Survey Telescope – VST – in Paranal, Chile, has captured some of the most detailed images ever taken of a spiral galaxy. The Silver Coin Galaxy, known to scientists as NGC 253, gleams about 11.5 million light years away in the southern constellation of Sculptor.
One light year is the distance that light travels in 365 Earth days, about 9.46 trillion kilometres or 5.87 trillion miles. NGC 253 is labelled a “starbust” galaxy because it is a stellar nursery where super-hot young stars have ignited, forming what look like bright clumps dotting its spiral.
The radiation streaming from these giant blue-white babies makes the surrounding hydrogen gas clouds glow green in the images captured by the telescope, the European Southern Observatory – ESO – said in a statement.
Silver Coin Galaxy was discovered by the German-British astronomer Caroline Herschel – sister of the famed astronomer William Herschel – as she searched for comets in 1783.
The stunning images were taken during the VLT Survey Telescope’s verification phase, during which the 2.6 metre instrument’s scientific performance is assessed before entering into full operation. The telescope is equipped with an enormous 268-megapixel camera called OmegaCAM.
NGC 253 is visible with a good pair of binoculars as it is one of the brightest galaxies in the sky after the Andromeda Galaxy, the closest to our own Milky Way.
The ESO, one of the world’s most productive astronomical observatories, is supported by 15 European countries. ESO, the European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere, is an inter-governmental organisation with 15 member states.
NGC 253 gleams about eleven and a half million light-years away in the southern constellation of Sculptor. It is often just called the Sculptor Galaxy, although other descriptive names include the Silver Coin or Silver Dollar Galaxy. It is easy to get a good look at NGC 253 through binoculars as it is one of the brightest galaxies in the sky after the Milky Way’s closest, big galactic neighbour, the Andromeda Galaxy.
Astronomers have noted the widespread active star formation in NGC 253 and labelled it a “starburst” galaxy . The many bright clumps dotting the galaxy are stellar nurseries where hot young stars have just ignited. The radiation streaming from these giant blue-white babies makes the surrounding hydrogen gas clouds glow brightly (green in this image).
This nearby spiral galaxy was discovered by the German–British astronomer Caroline Herschel, the sister of the famed astronomer William Herschel, as she searched for comets in 1783. The Herschels would have been delighted by the crisp, richly detailed view of NGC 253 that the VST can provide.
This latest image of NGC 253 was taken during VST’s science verification phase — when the telescope’s scientific performance is assessed before it enters operations. The VST data are being combined with infrared images from VISTA (eso0949) to identify the younger generations of stars in NGC 253. This picture is more than 12 000 pixels across and the superb sky conditions at ESO’s Paranal Observatory, combined with the fine telescope optics, result in sharp star images over the entire image.
The VST is a 2.6-metre wide-field survey telescope with a one-degree field of view — twice as broad as the full Moon . The VST programme is a joint venture between the INAF–Osservatorio Astronomico di Capodimonte, Naples, Italy and ESO (eso1119). The 268-megapixel camera OmegaCAM at its heart is designed to map the sky both quickly and with very fine image quality. VST is the largest telescope in the world designed to exclusively survey the sky in visible light, complementing ESO’s VISTA infrared survey telescope, also located at Paranal.
Zooming into this new picture not only allows a very detailed inspection of the star-forming spiral arms of the galaxy to be made, but also reveals a very rich tapestry of much more distant galaxies far beyond NGC 253.
ESO, the European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere, is an inter-governmental organisation with 15 Member States.
The Organisation is led by the Director General who is appointed by the ESO Council. The current Director-General is Prof. Tim de Zeeuw.
The main organisational and managerial units of ESO are the Directorates and Divisions. The Directorates are: Directorate of Programmes, Directorate of Operations, Directorate for Science, and Directorate of Engineering. The Divisions are: Telescope, Instrumentation, Technology, La Silla Paranal Observatory, ALMA Construction, European ALMA Support Centre, Data Management and Operations, Software Development, Administration, and Human Resources. Most of the divisions are located within a Directorate. Divisions are organised in Departments, some of which consist of two or more Groups.