Three Spectacular Nebulae Caught Together, Revealing Stunning Details About Star Birth (Synopsis)

"It shows you exactly how a star is formed; nothing else can be so pretty! A cluster of vapor, the cream of the milky way, a sort of celestial cheese, churned into light." -Benjamin Disraeli

From here on Earth, most of the stars we see in the night sky are ancient, having departed from the star-forming regions and open clusters that spawned them many millions or even billions of years ago. But there are still new stars forming in the Milky Way, and the vast majority of these star-forming regions are located in the galactic plane itself.

The Omega nebula, known also as Messier 17, is an intense and active region of star formation, viewed edge-on, which explains its dusty and beam-like appearance. Image credit: ESO / VST Survey.

As part of its mission to survey as much of the entire night sky as possible in visible light, the ESO’s VLT Survey Telescope (VST) has just released a 3.3 gigapixel composite of a region of the Milky Way containing three spectacular nebulae: the Omega Nebula, the Eagle Nebula, and Sharpless 2-54. While the Omega Nebula is similar to the Orion Nebula and the Eagle Nebula is larger and still active, Sharpless 2-54 is an ionized region caught in-between waves of star formation, presently inactive. The brilliant young clusters visible inside are all that will be left of all these nebulae once the gas burns away.

One of the many clusters in this region is highlighted by massive, short-lived, bright blue stars. Within only about 10 million years, the majority of the most massive ones will explode in a Type II supernova. Image credit: ESO / VST survey.

The images are incredible, and there’s an interactive, zoomable version you won’t want to miss. Get it all in no more than 200 words on Mostly Mute Monday!

More like this

"We don’t understand how a single star forms, yet we want to understand how 10 billion stars form." -Carlos Frenk The Universe has been around for a long time: nearly 14 billion years, to the best of our knowledge. When it was very young, there were absolutely zero stars in it, while today, there…
"What's that star? It's the Death Star. What does it do? It does Death. It does Death, buddy. Get out of my way!" -Eddie Izzard Like it was for many people, the original, very first Star Wars movie was one of my favorites as a child. And while there was a lot to be in awe of, the idea of jetting…
“For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s futures. And we are all mortal.” -John F. Kennedy If you went back in time to the birth of the Sun and the Solar System, what would you see?…
“The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long.” -Lao Tzu With hundreds of billions of stars in the Milky Way, you'd think the largest star we've ever discovered would be in the most intense star-forming regions here, perhaps towards the galactic center. It's a good thought, as we've…