13. The Milky Way’s Ancient Heart

12 October 2016

Variable stars close to the galactic centre

This image, captured with the VISTA infrared survey telescope, as part of the Variables in the Via Lactea (VVV) ESO public survey, shows the central part of the Milky Way. While normally hidden behind obscuring dust, the infrared capabilities of VISTA allow to study the stars close to the galactic centre. Within this field of view astronomers detected several ancient stars, of a type known as RR Lyrae. As RR Lyrae stars typically reside in ancient stellar populations over 10 billion years old, this discovery suggests that the bulging centre of the Milky Way likely grew through the merging of primordial star clusters.

Ancient stars, of a type known as RR Lyrae, have been discovered in the centre of the Milky Way for the first time, using ESO’s infrared VISTA telescope. RR Lyrae stars typically reside in ancient stellar populations over 10 billion years old. Their discovery suggests that the bulging centre of the Milky Way likely grew through the merging of primordial star clusters. These stars may even be the remains of the most massive and oldest surviving star cluster of the entire Milky Way.


12. A Microlensing Mystery

5 October 2015

This spectacular starry field of view shows the globular cluster NGC 6553 which is located approximately 19 000 light-years away in the constellation of Sagittarius. In this field, astronomers discovered a mysterious microlensing event. Microlensing is a form of gravitational lensing in which the light from a background source is bent by the gravitational field of a foreground object, creating an amplified image of the background object. The object causing the microlensing in NGC 6553 bent the light of a red giant star in the background (marked with an arrow). If this object lies in the cluster — something the scientists believe might only have a 50/50 chance of being correct — the object could be a black hole with a mass twice that of the Sun, making it the first of its kind to be discovered in a globular cluster. It would also be the oldest known stellar-mass black hole ever discovered. However, further observations are needed to determine the true nature of this lensing object for sure. This cosmological curiosity was detected by ESO's VISTA telescope at the Paranal Observatory in Chile as part of the VISTA Variables in the Vıa Lactea Survey (VVV) — a near-infrared survey aimed at scanning the central parts of the Milky Way. Link: Science Paper by Minniti et al (2015) VVV Survey
ESO Picture of The Week 1540a

This spectacular starry field of view shows the globular cluster NGC 6553 which is located approximately 19 000 light-years away in the constellation of Sagittarius. In this field, astronomers discovered a mysterious microlensing event. (more)


11.  VISTA Stares Right Through the Milky Way

New infrared view of the Trifid Nebula reveals new variable stars far beyond

4 February 2015

eso1504 — Photo Release
eso1504 — Photo Release

A new image taken with ESO’s VISTA survey telescope reveals the famous Trifid Nebula in a new and ghostly light. By observing in infrared light, astronomers can see right through the dust-filled central parts of the Milky Way and spot many previously hidden objects. In just this tiny part of one of the VISTA surveys, astronomers have discovered two unknown and very distant Cepheid variable stars that lie almost directly behind the Trifid. They are the first such stars found that lie in the central plane of the Milky Way beyond its central bulge. (more)

VISTA views the Trifid Nebula and reveals hidden variable stars

This small extract from the VISTA VVV survey of the central parts of the Milky Way shows the famous Trifid Nebula to the right of centre. It appears as faint and ghostly at these infrared wavelengths when compared to the familiar view at visible wavelengths. This transparency has brought its own benefits — many previously hidden background objects can now be seen clearly. Among these are two newly discovered Cepheid variable stars, the first ever spotted on the far side of the galaxy near its central plane.
This small extract from the VISTA VVV survey of the central parts of the Milky Way shows the famous Trifid Nebula to the right of centre. It appears as faint and ghostly at these infrared wavelengths when compared to the familiar view at visible wavelengths. This transparency has brought its own benefits — many previously hidden background objects can now be seen clearly. Among these are two newly discovered Cepheid variable stars, the first ever spotted on the far side of the galaxy near its central plane.

10. Surprise within a Cloud

1 December 2014

ESO Picture of The Week 1440a
ESO Picture of The Week 1448a

This image shows a region of the Milky Way that lies within the constellation of Scorpius, close to the central plane of the galaxy. The region hosts a dense cloud of dust and gas associated with the molecular cloud IRAS 16562-3959, clearly visible as an orange smudge among the rich pool of stars at the centre of the image. (more)


9. New Cool Starlet in Our Backyard

23 September 2013

ESO Picture of The Week 1338a
ESO Picture of The Week 1338a

This new image, from ESO’s VISTA telescope, shows a newly-discovered brown dwarf nicknamed VVV BD001, which is located at the very centre of this zoomable image. It is the first new brown dwarf spotted in our cosmic neighbourhood as part of the VVV Survey. VVV BD001 is located about 55 light-years away from us, towards the very crowded centre of our galaxy. (more)


8.  The Peanut at the Heart of our Galaxy

ESO telescopes create the best 3D map yet of central bulge of the Milky Way

12 September 2013

eso1339 — Science Release
eso1339 — Science Release

Two groups of astronomers have used data from ESO telescopes to make the best three-dimensional map yet of the central parts of the Milky Way. They have found that the inner regions take on a peanut-like, or X-shaped, appearance from some angles. This odd shape was mapped by using public data from ESO’s VISTA survey telescope along with measurements of the motions of hundreds of very faint stars in the central bulge. (more)

Part of the VVV view of the bulge of the Milky Way from ESO’s VISTA

This large star-filled picture is a tiny part of the VVV survey conducted by ESO’s VISTA infrared survey telescope. It shows a patch of sky in the direction of the centre of the Milky Way and includes many thousands of stars that form part of the Milky Way bulge. The star catalogues from the VVV survey have been used to map out the shape of the bulge more accurately than ever before.
This large star-filled picture is a tiny part of the VVV survey conducted by ESO’s VISTA infrared survey telescope. It shows a patch of sky in the direction of the centre of the Milky Way and includes many thousands of stars that form part of the Milky Way bulge. The star catalogues from the VVV survey have been used to map out the shape of the bulge more accurately than ever before.

7.  Sweeping the Dust from a Cosmic Lobster

New infrared VISTA image of NGC 6357

20 February 2013

eso1309a
eso1309 — Photo Release

A new image from ESO’s VISTA telescope captures a celestial landscape of glowing clouds of gas and tendrils of dust surrounding hot young stars. This infrared view reveals the stellar nursery known as NGC 6357 in a surprising new light. It was taken as part of a VISTA survey that is currently scanning the Milky Way in a bid to map our galaxy’s structure and explain how it formed. (more)


6. ESO Hosts Launch of the Book Vistas de la Galaxia

9 November 2012

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Announcement Id: ann12081

Today, at ESO’s premises in Santiago, the European Southern Observatory and the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile launched the book Vistas de la Galaxia (Vistas of the Galaxy), by astronomers Dante Minniti, Joyce Pullen and Ignacio Toledo.

Vistas de la Galaxia tells the story of an ambitious astronomical project and the people behind the amazing discoveries of a three-year trip through the Universe using ESO’s 4.1-metre Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA), the world’s largest survey telescope.

The book describes in depth a series of discoveries that have been made with VISTA in recent years. These include more than 100 new star clusters (eso1128eso1141), novae and over 300 new distant galaxies, among many others. Recently an international team of astronomers, including the lead author of the new book, has also used VISTA to create a catalogue of more than 84 million stars in the central region of the Milky Way. This is the largest catalogue ever made of centre of our galaxy (eso1242).


5.  84 Million Stars and Counting

VISTA creates largest ever catalogue of centre of our galaxy

24 October 2012

eso1242a
eso1242 — Photo Release

Using a whopping nine-gigapixel image from the VISTA infrared survey telescope at ESO’s Paranal Observatory, an international team of astronomers has created a catalogue of more than 84 million stars in the central parts of the Milky Way. This gigantic dataset contains more than ten times more stars than previous studies and is a major step forward for the understanding of our home galaxy. The image gives viewers an incredible, zoomable view of the central part of our galaxy. It is so large that, if printed with the resolution of a typical book, it would be 9 metres long and 7 metres tall. (more)

Annotated map of VISTA’s view of the centre of the Milky Way

This image has been labelled to show a selection of the many nebulae and clusters in this part of the sky. Messier 8 (the Lagoon Nebula), Messier 20 (the Trifid Nebula), NGC 6357 (the War and Peace Nebula) and NGC 6334 (the Cat's Paw Nebula) are all easily seen nebulae. The remaining labelled objects are all globular star clusters.
This image has been labelled to show a selection of the many nebulae and clusters in this part of the sky. Messier 8 (the Lagoon Nebula), Messier 20 (the Trifid Nebula), NGC 6357 (the War and Peace Nebula) and NGC 6334 (the Cat’s Paw Nebula) are all easily seen nebulae. The remaining labelled objects are all globular star clusters.

4.  VISTA Finds New Globular Star Clusters

…and sees right through the heart of the Milky Way

19 October 2011

eso1141a
eso1141 — Photo Release

 Two newly discovered globular clusters have been added to the total of just 158 known globular clusters in our Milky Way. They were found in new images from ESO’s VISTA survey telescope as part of the Via Lactea (VVV) survey. This survey has also turned up the first star cluster that is far beyond the centre of the Milky Way and whose light has had to travel right through the dust and gas in the heart of our galaxy to get to us. (more)

Visible/infrared comparison views of the newly discovered globular cluster VVV CL001

  This picture shows a comparison of the view of the newly discovered globular cluster VVV CL001 in visible (upper) and infrared light (lower). The infrared view, from the VISTA telescope, shows the new cluster very clearly for the first time and allows many of the component stars to be studied. The visible-light version was created from photographs taken through blue, red and infrared filters and forming part of the Digitized Sky Survey 2. The better-known and brighter globular cluster UKS 1 appears on the right.
This picture shows a comparison of the view of the newly discovered globular cluster VVV CL001 in visible (upper) and infrared light (lower). The infrared view, from the VISTA telescope, shows the new cluster very clearly for the first time and allows many of the component stars to be studied. The visible-light version was created from photographs taken through blue, red and infrared filters and forming part of the Digitized Sky Survey 2. The better-known and brighter globular cluster UKS 1 appears on the right.

VISTA view of the newly discovered globular cluster VVV CL002 close to the centre of the Milky Way

  This image from VISTA is a tiny part of the VISTA Variables in the Via Lactea (VVV) survey that is systematically studying the central parts of the Milky Way in infrared light. In the centre lies the faint newly found globular star cluster, VVV CL002. This previously unknown globular, which appears as an inconspicuous concentration of faint stars near the centre of the picture, lies close to the centre of the Milky Way.
This image from VISTA is a tiny part of the VISTA Variables in the Via Lactea (VVV) survey that is systematically studying the central parts of the Milky Way in infrared light. In the centre lies the faint newly found globular star cluster, VVV CL002. This previously unknown globular, which appears as an inconspicuous concentration of faint stars near the centre of the picture, lies close to the centre of the Milky Way.

VISTA view of the newly discovered open star cluster VVV CL003 beyond the galactic centre

  This image from VISTA is a tiny part of the VISTA Variables in the Via Lactea (VVV) survey that is systematically studying the central parts of the Milky Way in infrared light. At the centre of the picture lies the open star cluster VVV CL003. This newly discovered cluster, which appears as just an inconspicuous concentration of faint stars at the centre of the picture, is the first ever found on the other side of the centre of the Milky Way from the Earth.
This image from VISTA is a tiny part of the VISTA Variables in the Via Lactea (VVV) survey that is systematically studying the central parts of the Milky Way in infrared light. At the centre of the picture lies the open star cluster VVV CL003. This newly discovered cluster, which appears as just an inconspicuous concentration of faint stars at the centre of the picture, is the first ever found on the other side of the centre of the Milky Way from the Earth.

3.  VISTA Finds 96 Star Clusters Hidden Behind Dust

ESO’s infrared survey telescope digs deep into star-forming regions in our Milky Way

3 August 2011

eso1128a
eso1128 — Science Release

Using data from the VISTA infrared survey telescope at ESO’s Paranal Observatory, an international team of astronomers has discovered 96 new open star clusters hidden by the dust in the Milky Way. These tiny and faint objects were invisible to previous surveys, but they could not escape the sensitive infrared detectors of the world’s largest survey telescope, which can peer through the dust. This is the first time so many faint and small clusters have been found at once. (more)


2.  VISTA Stares Deeply into the Blue Lagoon

5 January 2011

eso1101 — Photo Release
eso1101 — Photo Release

This new infrared image of the Lagoon Nebula was captured as part of a five-year study of the Milky Way using ESO’s VISTA telescope at the Paranal Observatory in Chile. This is a small piece of a much larger image of the region surrounding the nebula, which is, in turn, only one part of a huge survey. (more)

Infrared/visible light comparison of views of the Lagoon Nebula (Messier 8)

This image compares infrared and visible views of the Lagoon Nebula (Messier 8). The visible light image (lower) was taken with the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at La Silla in Chile. The new infrared image (upper) was taken with the VISTA telescope at ESO’s Paranal Observatory. In the infrared, the rich dust clouds become more transparent and the gas clouds less conspicuous. A whole host of cool red stars that are otherwise invisible can be seen.
This image compares infrared and visible views of the Lagoon Nebula (Messier 8). The visible light image (lower) was taken with the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at La Silla in Chile. The new infrared image (upper) was taken with the VISTA telescope at ESO’s Paranal Observatory. In the infrared, the rich dust clouds become more transparent and the gas clouds less conspicuous. A whole host of cool red stars that are otherwise invisible can be seen.

1. VISTA’s infrared view of the Cat’s Paw Nebula*

21 April 2010

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ESO 1017a

Infrared view of the Cat’s Paw Nebula (NGC 6334) taken by VISTA. NGC 6334 is a vast region of star formation about 5500 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Scorpius. (more)

The star-forming Cat’s Paw Nebula through ArTeMiS’s eyes

This image of the star formation region NGC 6334 is one of the first scientific images from the ArTeMiS instrument on APEX. The picture shows the glow detected at a wavelength of 0.35 millimetres coming from dense clouds of interstellar dust grains. The new observations from ArTeMiS show up in orange and have been superimposed on a view of the same region taken in near-infrared light by ESO’s VISTA telescope at Paranal.
This image of the star formation region NGC 6334 is one of the first scientific images from the ArTeMiS instrument on APEX. The picture shows the glow detected at a wavelength of 0.35 millimetres coming from dense clouds of interstellar dust grains. The new observations from ArTeMiS show up in orange and have been superimposed on a view of the same region taken in near-infrared light by ESO’s VISTA telescope at Paranal.

An infrared/visible comparison view of the Cat’s Paw Nebula

This image compares infrared and visible views of the Cat’s Paw Nebula. The visible light image (right) was taken with the Wide Field Imager on the 2.2-metre MPG/ESO telescope at La Silla in Chile (eso1003). The new infrared image (left) was taken with the VISTA telescope at ESO’s Paranal Observatory. In the infrared, the dust that obscures many stars becomes nearly transparent, revealing a whole host of new stars that are otherwise invisible.
This image compares infrared and visible views of the Cat’s Paw Nebula. The visible light image (right) was taken with the Wide Field Imager on the 2.2-metre MPG/ESO telescope at La Silla in Chile (eso1003). The new infrared image (left) was taken with the VISTA telescope at ESO’s Paranal Observatory. In the infrared, the dust that obscures many stars becomes nearly transparent, revealing a whole host of new stars that are otherwise invisible.

Highlights from VISTA’s infrared view of the Cat’s Paw Nebula

Highlights from the infrared view of the Cat’s Paw Nebula (NGC 6334) taken by VISTA. NGC 6334 is a vast region of star formation about 5500 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Scorpius. The whole gas cloud is about 50 light-years across. NGC 6334 is one of the most active nurseries of young massive stars in our galaxy, some nearly ten times the mass of our Sun and most born in the last few million years.
Highlights from the infrared view of the Cat’s Paw Nebula (NGC 6334) taken by VISTA. NGC 6334 is a vast region of star formation about 5500 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Scorpius. The whole gas cloud is about 50 light-years across. NGC 6334 is one of the most active nurseries of young massive stars in our galaxy, some nearly ten times the mass of our Sun and most born in the last few million years.

VISTA VVV images

Details of the VISTA Galactic Centre image

11 December 2009

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ESO 0949f

One million stars — towards the dark heart of the Milky Way

11 December 2009

With this remarkable VISTA mosaic we look deep into the dusty heart of our own Milky Way galaxy in the constellation of Sagittarius (the Archer). About one million stars are revealed in this picture, most of them not seen in visible light pictures. As well as absorbing light, the dust also scatters blue light from the distant stars and makes the central part of this huge starscape appear very red. This image is a mosaic created from VISTA images taken through Y, J and Ks filters in the near-infrared part of the spectrum. The image is about 2 degrees by 1.5 degrees in extent. The total exposure time for this mosaic was only 80 seconds. This image is available as a mounted image in the ESOshop #L
With this remarkable VISTA mosaic we look deep into the dusty heart of our own Milky Way galaxy in the constellation of Sagittarius (the Archer). About one million stars are revealed in this picture, most of them not seen in visible light pictures. As well as absorbing light, the dust also scatters blue light from the distant stars and makes the central part of this huge starscape appear very red. This image is a mosaic created from VISTA images taken through Y, J and Ks filters in the near-infrared part of the spectrum. The image is about 2 degrees by 1.5 degrees in extent. The total exposure time for this mosaic was only 80 seconds. This image is available as a mounted image in the ESOshop #L